Electronic Love

I’ve just received the most WONDERFUL Christmas gift from one of my oldest and dearest friends. If every you’ve asked yourself, “what is the perfect gift for the audiophile who has everything?” this is precisely the sort of gift you should consider.

This is the Electronic Love Blueprint: A History of Electronic Music by the Dorothy design collective – an electrical schematic of a theremin mapping 200 inventors, innovators, artists, composers spanning the entire history of recorded sound. Key pioneers featured include Léon Theremin, Bob Moog, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin.

It loosely groups genres, from the obscure Musique Concrète (Pierre Schaeffer) to the better known Krautrock (Kraftwerk, Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust, Cluster, Harmonia and Amon Düül II) Synthpop (Gary Numan, Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Pet Shop Boys) and Electronica (New Order, The Prodigy, Massive Attack, LCD Sound System and Daft Punk). There are also references to the experimental BBC Radiophonic Workshop and favourite innovating record labels Mute and Warp.

This metallic silver screen print on 120gsm Keaykolour Royal Blue uncoated paper measures 60 x 80cm and will be the pride of my listening room.

I’ve ordered a UK frame and can’t wait to display it!

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A Momentous Discovery and a Wish Fulfilled

The last two weeks of January have been beautifully inspiring.  A further exploration of choral works at the recommendation of a fantastic fellow classical connoisseur led me to revisit Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem.

Harmoni Mundi - Arvo Part - Da Pacem

I was instantly enamored by the sacred sounds of The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the fantastic production quality of the recording.  And I was duly delighted by the discovery that the release was issued by the Harmonia Mundi label (from which I’d recently acquired the 20-volume CENTURY I and II early music catalogs).  This remarkable music set the stage for a brilliant musical revelation – one that carried with it emotive and intellectual majesty I’ve not experienced since my first listen to Eno’s Airports.

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The revelation arrived in the form of a fated discovery of Germany’s Harmonia – the supergroup of Dieter Moebuis of Cluster (synthesizer, guitar, electronic percussion, nagoya harp, vocals), Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster (organ, piano, guitar, electronic percussion, vocals), Michael Rother of Neu! (guitar, piano, organ, electronic percussion, and vocals), and eventually, Brian Eno (synthesizer, bass, vocals).

Their small but influential discography was produced by Conny Plank, who produced works by Neu!, Cluster (almost becoming a member of the band), Ash Ra Tempel, Can, and Guru Guru.

In December of last year, Larry Crane interviewed Michael Rother for TapeOp.com and discussed the formation of Harmonia, their work, but it was an article published January 20th of this year in The New Yorker titled, The Invention of Ambient Music that first introduced me to Harmonia.  The article cites a video interview from 1997 in which Bowie named some of his influences, including Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Harmonia.

An inspiration good enough for the Thin White Duke is certainly one worth exploring, so I wasted no time in queuing up Harmonia’s first album, Musik von Harmonia, released in 1974 on the classic Brain label.

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Instantaneously I knew I’d found something exceptional.  The tracks were united in a consistent theme – instrumental exploration of subtle, ever-shifting sonic textures – an electronic realization of Satie’s vision of furniture music.

On the surface the work might initially appear uneventful, dull, and lacking in focus or direction.  There are no lead vocals and no primary melodic structure. However these seemingly detrimental characteristics are precisely what contributed to their greatness and lasting-influence in the world of ambient music and beyond.  

Eno has stated that Harmonia was “the world’s most important rock band” in the mid ’70s.  Daniel Dumych elaborates in his article for hyperreal.org: “Perhaps Eno’s reason for praising Harmonia so highly was that their music fit the requirements of ambient rock. Its music was equally suitable for active or passive listening. The careful listener found his/her attentions rewarded by the musical activities and sounds, but Harmonia’s music was also capable of setting a sonic environment.”

In John Cage’s classic Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (Folkways FT 3704, 1959), he observes:

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

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Cages words accurately describe a first-listen to Harmonia’s music, (only I was instantly receptive to the “subtle, ever-shifting sonic textures” to which I alluded above.)  Headphones donned and eyes closed, I laid in bed and soaked in every note of the Harmonia catalog.  By its conclusion, I’d scoured the web for information on available recordings in a vinyl format and was astounded and elated to learn that only three months prior (to the day, in fact), a massive deluxe 6LP box set celebrating Harmonia’s complete recordings had just been issued by Grönland Records in Germany!

The teaser video for the set:

The set, titled Complete Works, contains all the released material from 1973 to 1976, including their 1976 collaboration with Brian Eno and four unreleased tracks (Documents 1975).  Also included are a 36-page booklet, a concert poster, a pop-up, and a digital download code.

harmonia set
Overcome with excitement at this fateful cosmic alignment of circumstance, I sprang from my bed, and quickly dialed my contact for German import vinyl and limited edition recordings.  The set was not intended for distribution in the US, and copies had already sold out from the Grönland Records website.  Thankfully, my contact came through for me and within a matter of minutes I’d secured a copy for my library.  It just arrived in the States and I couldn’t be more delighted.  

Below is a video of the unboxing of this wonderful box set.

It’s truly remarkable to experience this sort of exhilaration over a newly-discovered artist.  As an archivist with well over 100,000 recordings in my library, there are moments when I fear I’ve exhausted the 20th century of all its surprises.  But, like I was by my first experience listening to Harry Partch, I am once again awakened to the magnificence of our greatest century of cultural artistry.

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Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – Legends of Krautrock

Sunday Playlist of the day – Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – Legends of Krautrock.

450 of the greatest kosmische musik albums from 77 German artists.

Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio

Spanning 1969 to the present, personal favorites among the list include discographies from:

  • Can
  • Faust
  • Kraftwerk (particularly the pre-Ralf und Florian LPs)
  • Amon Duul I&II
  • Neu!
  • Popol Vuh
  • Harmonia
  • Tangerine Dream
  • Klaus Schulze
  • Manuel Gottsching
  • Cluster
  • Ash Ra Tempel
  • Embryo
  • La Dusseldorf
  • The Cosmic Jokers
  • and A.R. & Machines

The list also includes modern artists who celebrate and revive the genre, like London’s Public Service Broadcasting.

Album now-playing: Cosmic Jokers’ s/t – the band that never was.

Cosmic Jokers - Cosmic Jokers

Their albums were acid party jam sessions recorded and released without the supergroup’s knowledge. Participants included Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze of Ash Ra Tempel, Jurgen Dollase and Harald Grosskopf of Wallenstein, and Dierks. Regardless, it’s wonderful stuff!

An Exploration of Kosmische Musik Essentials (2 of 2)

Welcome to the conclusion to my 2-part feature on kosmische essentials.  First, an apology to readers who expected to see Neu’s first two albums, La Dusseldorf, Faust, and Harmonia.  I fully recognize the importance and grand influence of these artists, however they’ve thus far been absent from my collection.  They will surely be added in due time, but for now we’ll begin with another essential – Germany’s Can.

Can recorded three milestones of krautrock between 1971 and 73 – namely, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and my favorite – Future Days.  Fans may argue that their debut album Monster Movie was a far more important record, but these three albums feature some of the most mind-blowing tracks I’ve ever heard.  This is effectively the opposite of Kraftwerk.  Instead of Ralf and Florian’s polished industrial mechanized music, Can offers chaotic, psychedelic tunes and spontaneous lyricism that made them icons of the genre.

These are the United Artists marbled vinyl pressings from around 2009.  I’m uncertain whether or not these are authorized reissues, but no corners were cut on the quality of either the heavyweight gatefold jackets or the quality of the colored vinyl.  Absolutely essential.

Can - Tago Mago

 Can – Tago Mago (1971)

Can - Ege Bamyasi

Can – Ege Bamyasi (1972)

Can - Future Days
 Can – Future Days (1973)

Popol Vuh is another artist with a dauntingly extensive catalog of albums.  I’ll highlight my personal favorite – Hosianna Mantra – minimal choral music from Germany recently reissued by a small independent record store in Spain.  The pressing restored the original album art (after the 1980s American issue replaced the gorgeous cover with a boring large yellow circle).  Better still, the disc shipped with a bonus 7″ single and a poster, limited to 500 copies worldwide.  Wah Wah Records continues to release long out-of-print titles and is a label well-worth exploring.

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Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra (1972)

Another essential deep into the territory of Berlin School ambience is Manuel Gottsching’s Inventions for Electric Guitar from 1975.  This, in my humble opinion, is space rock perfection.  An expert’s blend of guitar, trance inducing rhythm, and delay and echo effects.  There’s really very little else happening on this record, but Gottsching transports the listener to the furthest reaches of outer space.  This is music for interstellar travel.


Manuel Gottsching - Inventions for Electric Guitar

Manuel Göttsching – Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975)

And Inventions became the precursor to Gottsching’s most important work – E2-E4 from 1984.  Allmusic was spot-on when they described the record as sounding like the house music of the 20 years that followed its release.  Gottsching focuses all his energy on the delicate interplay between guitar loops, drum synths, and sparsely-interjected tones from an accompanying synthesizer.  This is pure trance… from 1984.

Manuel Gottsching - E2-E4

Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4 (1984)

But perhaps no individual had as expansive a solo and collaborative catalog in the Berlin School than Klaus Schulze.  Irrlicht (1972) was Schulze’s first official solo album, recorded just a month before Zeit.  This is cerebral, classically-influenced cosmic music – a magnificent milestone of the genre.

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht (1972)

If you buy only one Klaus Schulze record, (and there are well over 100), please consider the massively successful double LP – X from 1978.  X is hypnotic and entrancing modern classical music and is universally acclaimed as one of Schulze’s finest efforts.  The album is subtitled, “Six Musical Biographies” as each track is named after one of Schulze’s greatest inspirations.  This is not passive listening – these songs, many in excess of 20 minutes in length, are engaging explorations of synthesized sound.

Klaus Schulze - X

Klaus Schulze – X (1978)

Also recommended are Schulze’s 12-volume collaboration with Pete Namlook – The Dark Side of the Moog series, and for the fan who has everything-Schulze, I encourage you to look into The Ultimate Edition – a 50-disc collection of box sets featuring numerous live and non-album recordings.  It clocks in at 65 hours of material and I love cuing it up at work to transform my 9-5 into a calm and meditative atmosphere.

Here I’d like to touch quickly upon a non-German record that was really in the spirit of what Schulze and his fellow Berlin-schoolers were up to in the late 70s.  Steve Hillage, one of the primary figures of the Canterbury scene in the UK recorded Rainbow Dome Musick for the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit in 1979.  While not geographically qualifying as “Berlin School,” it is most definitely of the same caliber as its German counterparts.

The album features Hillage on guitars, the Fender Rhodes, and ARP and Moog synthesizers.  A smattering of Tibetan bells and the sound of a running stream make the album approach the then-budding territory of New Age music, but Hillage’s musicianship and penchant for the avant-garde exempt the album from the flood of forgettable New Age music of the era.  If you like Schulze’s solo work, you really should check out Rainbow Dome Musick.

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick

Steve Hillage – Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

 I always end my multi-album features with something unique – and this is no exception.

Public Service Broadcasting is a London-based duo who create retro-futuristic electronic music much in the spirit of classic krautrock.  They use samples from old public information films, archival footage and propaganda material, to (quote) ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’.  PSB combines classic synths with banjo, ukulele, sax and trumpets all propelled by a nearly-motorik beat.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain

Both their album art and their music bear the streamlined magnificence of the Futurists.  My two favorite selections are The War Room EP and their first full-length release, Inform, Educate, Entertain.  I’ve also just pre-ordered their exciting new record scheduled for release this February.

Public Service Broadcasting – Inform Educate Entertain

But to close with a proper German record, I can’t leave out my recent acquisition from December of 2014 – GAS.  Wolfgang Voigt’s legendary titles released under the Gas moniker were combined in an abbreviated double LP, Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.  Recorded between 1996 and 2000, Gas is perhaps the ultimate vision of the Berlin School’s musical philosophy.  To recap the brilliant descriptions from critics upon its release – zero-gravity club music, tunes for lucid dreaming, underwater techno, or as Wire put it, “an outdoor rave, heard floating through the air from a neighbouring village.”  This is precisely the sound of Gas.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

Gas – Zauberberg (1997)

Gas – Königsforst (1999)

Gas – Pop (2000)

My next German music purchases will likely include the first Cosmic Jokers LP, Schulze’s Timewind, and Froese’s solo debut – Aqua on the Brain label.

I hope these featured essentials are helpful to anyone venturing into kosmische music for the first time.  Have I left out any of your own favorites?  Let me know!

The First 800 Albums of 2013

I’ve been all over the ambient and experimental map these first two months of the year.  I recently revisited Boards of Canada’s extended catalog – 6 LPs, 4 compilation albums, 6 EPs, and two live sets (the Warp 10th Anniversary Party from ’99 and All Tomorrows Parties in 2001) and fell in love with the sound of early downtempo all over again.

For years I’ve loved Peter Gabriel’s fourth LP (in particular the tribal percussion on the track, “Rhythm of the Heat”) as well as the Birdy and Passion soundtracks from ’85 and ’89.  I decided it was finally time to acquaint myself with the rest of his discography, so I picked up a digital archive of his 14 studio albums, 17 singles, 11 remastered recordings, 6 official compilations and 6 live albums.  I have I-IV on vinyl, as well as the Birdy OST, and this archive will be the perfect way for me to identify which LPs to order next.

Also this past month I decided to explore the birth of IDM.  A quick bit of research uncovered the Artificial Intelligence series on the Warp label, which was the definitive collection of early intelligent dance releases.  The series included 8 discs issued between 1992-1994.  The selection below is by Link, which is one-half Tom Middleton who I remember from the Cosmic Fury DJ face-off  between Middleton and Fred Deakin of Lemon Jelly.

And after months of researching krautrock’s greatest recordings, I finally picked up 11 albums by Faust.  And thank god, because the search led me to the 1973 masterpiece collaboration of Faust and Tony Conrad titled Outside the Dream Syndicate.  This stripped-bare, minimalist record puts you into a trace and you slowly begin to feel the subtle nuances of the droning violin and the relentless percussion.  A most rewarding listen!  I promptly added Conrad’s debut LP to my shopping list.  It’s around $100 when it surfaces, so it appears I’m not the only fan out there.

Popol Vuh was another German 70s artist I discovered and enjoyed this past month.  I tried out their 27 LP catalog spanning 1970 – 1999 and (as usual) was most fond of their debut album – Affenstunde.  The album is a solid 40 minutes of droning proto-synth sounds and natural percussion.  Unlike the later work of Tangerine Dream, the album never sounds artificial or sequenced.  It remains organic from start to finish.  I’ll be looking for this album at the record show next month.

Just before the month began I went through the complete discography of Tangerine Dream chronologically by date of release to identify which albums from their vast catalog would best fit my library.  I picked up 206 discs, including all studio albums, all remasters, live LPs, soundtracks, singles, and solo projects by each member of the band.  A week into listening and reading I knew exactly what I wanted.  Their first four records were much more experimental and organic than the sequencer-based ambient work that they are best known for.  Long before they inspired the new age genre they were making crazy avant garde German music not unlike Popol Vuh.

Unfortunately, original pressings of these early albums would set me back $50 apiece and $100 for a clean copy of their debut LP.  After two days of research, I found the answer.

In 1985, Relativity Records pressed 3000 numbered copies of a box set called In the Beginning… which included their first four albums, uncut, and the previously unreleased Green Desert LP.  All of the original album art is included in the set along with a ten page book about the band.  Best of all – I secured a copy for a mere $25.  This was the PERFECT solution for my situation!

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While I was on a German kick I decided to put the finishing touches on my Kraftwerk library.  I already had Radioactivity and Autobahn on vinyl so I picked up their first 17 albums digitally to see where I wanted to go next.  I instantly fell in love with Kraftwerk I and Kraftwerk II.  These were the experimental LPs they produced before Ralf & Florian secured their signature electronic sound.  Many reviewers write the first two albums off as “for-completists-only.”  I strongly disagree.  While of course these are no Autobahn, they are beautiful free-form experiments and I had to have them on wax.  After two days of exploring I settled on the Italian Crown label bootleg pressings which came with red vinyl and green marbled vinyl discs.  I found one seller with both albums so I saved on shipping and took the plunge.  They’ll be in the mail this week.

The other German group I had neglected for far too long was the band, Neu!  I’m listening to the six LPs they released between 1972 and 2010 (the most recent being a recording from 1986.)  I think I’ll have to agree with the majority of fans that their first two records from ’72 and ’73 are their best work.  I’ll be looking for original pressings at the record show as well.

I also picked up the fan-produced bootleg series of EPs titled, The KLF Recovered & Remastered.  The 6 EPs and 7th Special Remixes disc include magnificent independent remasters from the KLF’s deleted catalog.  These EPs are on par with the work Dr. Ebbetts and The Purple Chick did with the Beatles’ recordings.

KLF Remastered

The best disc by far is EP 6 – Live From the Lost Continent 2012, which is a simulated live stadium concert in which the KLF take the listener on a tour through their entire career.  It opens with the Rites of Mu and closes, appropriately with the KLF collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards.  This was the legendary performance where they fired blanks into the audience, declared that they’d left the music business, and dumped a sheep carcass at the doors of the building.  The sampled screams of the audience all throughout this hour-and-17-minute “performance” is true to form to what the KLF, themselves did with their Stadium House Trilogy and the entire concert is an absolute triumph.  Best of all, it lets long-time fans take part in one last show decades after Drummond and Cauty left the biz behind.

I have over 88 KLF albums and singles in my library, and EP #6 RE now ranks #1 on my list.  And thanks to EP #1, I’ve added the America, What Time is Love LP single to my shopping list.

Always on the hunt for more experimental music, I finally took the advice of my favorite record store owner and listened to Soft Machine’s first four albums.  I had discovered the Canterbury Scene.  More of a journalistic term than anything else, (like krautrock) it referred to a group of musicians around Canterbury who worked together in several bands around the time that the Berlin School was born in Germany.

I researched a list of essential artists and picked up their discographies.  This included Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Egg, Steve Hillage, National Health, Khan, Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra/Manuel Gottsching, Gong, Caravan and Henry Cow.

The organ work on Egg’s first LP is brilliant, and warranted repeated listenings.  I also enjoyed their post-break-up release, The Civil Surface from ’74.  Both have been added to my record show list.

Out of the 17 albums in Gong’s library, I found the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy to be the most memorable.  Released between 1973 and 74 these were finally re-pressed in Italy in 2002 and have sold online for about $45 apiece for the re-issues.  Angel’s Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible Pt 2) seems to be their strongest record.

I was similarly floored by Ash Ra Tempel’s first two LPs.  If you like post-psychedelic drone, their early stuff is really worth picking up.  I’m going through the 49 LPs they released between 1970 and 2007 but so far Ash Ra Tempel (1971) and Schwingungen (1972) are my clear favorites.

The unfortunate thing about many of the Canterbury and krautrock artists is that there were no pressings made after their original releases in the early 1970s.  This means a listener may have to shell out one or two hundred dollars per album, which is why I’ve no reservation about familiarizing myself with their catalog digitally before making that kind of investment.

On to more contemporary sounds, I’ve been following the Electronic Supper Club series which is a great collection of live dj sets.  Of the thirty three hours of material available thus far, hour 30, “Set 2” is a memorable favorite – lots of deep house grooves which are great for both the dancefloor or the living room.  Click here if you’d like to watch the set.

That got me in the mood for more quality IDM, so I picked up 47 albums and singles by Aphex Twin.  I’m still trying to warm up to the fan-favorite, Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 which inevitably surfaces in conversations about all-time-greatest ambient releases.

I may also invest in a vinyl copy of Powerpill (the Pac-Man techno single) to add to my ridiculously large collection of Pac-Man Fever merchandise.  The Aphex Twin library is just over 41 hours worth of material so I’m sure I’ll find a few classic releases to order on wax.  (“Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” from Clint Mansell’s Pi soundtrack comes immediately to mind.)

Ever since I sampled Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach vinyl box set during my last pilgrimage to my hometown record shop I’ve wanted to learn more about his work.  I have 53 of his discs in my archive and I’m slowly making my way through the collection.  He seems consistent in his approach to music and his focus on short, repeated patterns gives it an almost drone-like quality.  Thus far the Einstein on the Beach 4LP set is my favorite so I will likely pick it up from the shop.  I only wish there were vinyl issues of the short pieces he composed for Sesame Street in 1979 for the animated shorts, The Geometry of Circles.  He wrote them while developing Einstein on the Beach, which is probably why that album remains my favorite so far.

I watched the stunning space madness film, Moon from 2009 this month.  Imagine a two-hour film with only one actor… and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time.  What was most memorable about the film was the score – a simple oscillation of two notes on a piano that sticks in your head hours after the film has ended.  After researching the film I read that the melody was a metaphor for the conflict between the main character and his clone (both played by the same actor.)

I was surprised to learn that the score was written by the aforementioned Clint Mansell, the former guitarist for Pop Will Eat Itself.  He has written the scores for many films, including Black Swan (2010), Doom (2005) and the soundtrack I mentioned earlier – Pi (1998).  His more recent works have entered into modern classical territory, and I’m enjoying it very much.  I picked up all 19 of his scores and my vinyl copy of Moon arrived in the mail last week.

At the beginning of the month I was researching an old CD I remembered from 2000 – LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards.  I had recently heard tracks by Big Bud which had the same Intelligent D’n’B feel as Journey Inwards.  Sure enough, I learned that they were produced on the same label.  I quickly picked up the complete 94 disc catalog which included all of the Good Looking Records/Earth/Soul/Logical Progression/Looking Back/etc releases and I absolutely loved what I heard.  Shortly after listening to this collection I added Big Bud’s Late Night Blues LP to my shopping list.  The album plays like a live show in a small space-jazz club, and is great music to wind down to.

My exploration of space-jazz led me to a Various Artists collection called The Future Sounds of Jazz.  This series compiles the best electronic “future jazz” singles from 1995 – 2012 in a wonderful 21 disc set.  Nightmares on Wax became a fast-favorite of mine, and I will likely be purchasing their first two LPs – Caraboot Soul and A Word of Science.

The last new entry in my library this month was the result of my research into contemporary ambient sound.  I have approximately 830 ambient albums beginning with Erik Satie’s The Gymnopédies from 1888 and ending with Ulrich Schnauss’ A Long Way to Fall from 2013, but the majority of my ambient collection is what you would call “classic ambience.”

To get a better feel for more contemporary ambient recordings I researched a long-time favorite artist – Wolfgang Voigt.  He founded an ambient label in Cologne, Germany in 1993 and released collections of his favorite minimal and microhouse works on his label each year.  I picked up the 13 disc Pop Ambient set which began in 2001 and published their latest release last month.   It makes for a fantastic playlist, and is inspiring a number of future vinyl purchases.

So there you have it – the first 819 albums of 2013.  The year is off to a great start.  My research has yielded a list of must-have LPs which I’ve passed on to a record dealer who is traveling to Germany this week in preparation for the upcoming record show.  He promised to bring me back some great original pressings.  I’m looking forward to it!