Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music Remaster

It's not often you see a remastered CD that is quieter than the original CD. But that's the case with the new reissue of The Jayhawks' 2003 album Rainy Day Music.

Waveform for "Tailspin" from Original CD (2003)
 Waveform for "Tailspin" from Remastered CD (2014)

Kudos to the Jayhawks and remastering engineer Vic Anesini for getting it right this time. The music really does sound much more natural now. The quieter remastering suits the gentle grace of the music better than the louder original mastering.

The album was originally recorded and mixed to analog tape by Ethan Johns and (from what I understand) the upcoming 2 LP reissue will may or may not be cut from analog tape. In the meantime, the new CD sounds really nice, and has 6 bonus cuts.

The vastly underrated Smile and Sound Of Lies have also been reissued on CD with bonus cuts, and will also be subject to 2 LP reissues. Just don't expect the same substantial sonic upgrade as with Rainy Day Music.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

R.I.P. - Tommy Ramone

Rest in peace Tommy Ramone.

I loved how I was able to record all three albums to a single 90 minute cassette ("Why Is It Always This Way?" got cut off just before it ended if memory serves). No records ever spoke more directly to my own sense of misfit-ism than these three, and that cassette became a constant traveling companion.

A couple memories: I used to wait on Johnny pretty regularly when I worked at Kim's Underground (video store in the Village). He didn't say much and rented exactly the kind of movies you'd expect: Z-grade horror films mostly. One day I found myself standing in line at Bagel Bob's next to Joey. He was impossibly tall and thin and frankly didn't look all that healthy. I never met Tommy or Dee Dee.

Generally when in the presence of famous people I leave them alone. I figure that's what they want. And that's how I treated Joey and Johnny. Just left them alone. I wish now that, when I had the opportunity, I had just said "thanks" to them. Their music changed my life. As a young person just knowing there were people like the Ramones out there made me feel better, and recognize there was something beyond the world I had experienced up to that point.

Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Sauce

New mix up on Mixcloud. Full track list below.

1. "Everybody's Talkin'" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
2. "Não Vou Chorar" by Os Diagonais
3. "Mentira (Chega de Mentira)" by Marcos Valle
4. "Stereotype/Stereotypes, Pt. 2" by The Specials
5. "lemon firebrigade" by Haircut 100
6. "Burning Desire" by Orange Juice
7. "Drumbeat for Baby [12" Version]" by Weekend
8. "Berimbáu" by Os Ipanemas
9. "Samba De Uma Nota So" by Os Cariocas
10. "Delicado" by Percy Faith & His Orchestra
11. "Send Me No Flowers" by Nellie McKay
12. "Way Down In The Hole" by Tom Waits
13. "Mã" by Tom Zé
14. "Panis Et Circenses" by Os Mutantes
15. "August Day Song" by Bebel Gilberto
16. "After Sunrise" by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77
17. "Casa Forte" by Edu Lobo
18. "So Nice (Summer Samba)" by Astrud Gilberto
19. "Love To Know" by Marine Girls

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Yoko Ono With Yo La Tengo - Live At Glastonbury

Yoko Ono performed with Yo La Tengo at this year's Glastonbury Festival. Apparently this video is getting a lot of hits from sites calling it the "worst live performance ever."

Here is a sample commentary from a site I won't link to:

Oh my god. This is bad. John Lennon is surely turning in his grave, because Yoko Ono just had the worst live performance ever.

When the Plastic Ono Band took stage at Glastonbury, fans gathered all around the stage to watch Yoko perform, but there’s no way they could have predicted the ear-splitting squeals that she "sang" into the microphone.

I don't even know where to start with such ignorance. First off, I'll admit that Yoko Ono is not for all tastes. That is no secret. But the idea that John would be "rolling over in his grave" at this performance is laughable. John loved Yoko and respected her as artist. A lot people never understood that, or simply refused to accept it. But the fact is he was an enthusiastic participant in her musical projects, some of which were actually a lot less accessible than this performance (I've heard Yoko sound way more out-there than this).

And the idea that there is no way fans at the festival could have predicted her "ear-splitting squeals" is equally absurd. Maybe if they were "fans" who had never heard of Yoko Ono and thought they were attending a Miley Cyrus performance they'd be confused, but this is pretty much exactly what anyone with even a passing familiarity with Yoko would expect. And frankly, the audience looks to be very much enjoying what Yoko and Yo La Tengo were laying down.

Yoko Ono doesn't need me to defend her. She is a strong, brilliant woman who for over 80 years has blazed her own path in this world. And she's done so in the face of tragedy and the kind of hostility that would shatter the ego of all but the strongest among us. I salute her.

Also, does anyone know where Ira got that shirt? Because I want one.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Musicians React To Pono: What Are They Hearing?

There is a real medicine show quality to this Pono promo video featuring famous musicians (David Crosby, Sting, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, Tom Petty, etc.) testifying to the life altering impact of Ponomusic. Each one has just been apparently blown away by a comparison between a hi-rez Ponomusic file and either a CD quality file or an MP3, or maybe an iTunes file (it's not totally clear what they've been listening to, and no context is given).

I never want to put myself in the position of saying what other people do and do not hear. I especially don't like to suggest that someone has been taken in by the power of suggestion. So let me be clear: I have no idea what these guys did or didn't hear, and I am not trying to imply their reactions are anything but 100% genuine. I'm also not saying they were suckered into believing they heard things that weren't real.

But as someone who has spent a lot of time comparing the sound quality of various digital resolutions, it is hard for me to accept that these reactions resulted solely from listening to music files with increased sampling frequency and bit depth alone. I have to believe something else is at work here. Quite possibly the different versions they heard were represented by different masterings. I don't  know, and it's not like Pono provides any concrete details.

All other things being equal, the difference between hi-rez (24 bit) digital and CD quality digital (16 bit/44.1 kHz) is just not that profound. I'm not saying there aren't differences (there are) and I'm not saying those differences can't be heard (they can under the right circumstances). It's just that the difference is very subtle and difficult to hear, even for extremely experienced listeners with excellent hearing.

Don't believe me? Here's three different music files, each the same 30 second sample of Nick Drake's "Hazey Jane II." The first is a 24 bit/96 kHz version that I downloaded from Universal music. The second is a CD quality (16 bit/44.1 kHz) version that I generated from that same hi-rez version.* The third is a 192 kps MP3 created from the hi-rez version. Listen to each of them (preferably using some sort of ABX tester to make the test blind). Make sure whatever device you listen on is capable of 24 bit/96 kHz resolution (you might have to change the MIDI settings on your computer). Decide for yourself if the differences between them match the hype you see in Pono's video. Personally, I do not hear it.

"Hazey Jane II" (24bit/96kHz)
"Hazey Jane II" (16bit/44.1kHz - aka "CD resolution")
"Hazey Jane II" (MP3 192kps)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Philips SACD 1000

Throwback Thursday: My old Philips SACD 1000. What a piece of crap. I paid [I wont say how much] for this player, the second SACD compatible player to hit the market. Shortly after the 30 day trial period ended it began malfunctioning. I sent it to Philips for repair (under warranty) five times or more. It never worked for more than two weeks straight again. I followed various internet discussions about this player, and as far as I could gather nearly every single one of them failed and could not be fixed.

Eventually Philips refunded my money, and I even managed to sell the player to someone for a couple hundred bucks for parts (it had some very high quality components under the hood). But it was not worth the frustration.

 For a variety of reasons SACD (Super Audio CD) never really caught on, and Sony and Philips quickly all but abandoned the technology (which was supposed to be a major upgrade over CD sound). (Yes, I know that some specialty labels still produce SACDs).

I keep this photo as a reminder not to jump on every "big new thing" technology and to remain skeptical of marketing hype, especially when it is presented with a lot of technical jargon that I do not fully understand. I later discovered, through blind listening tests, that when all other things are equal, I am unable to hear a dime's worth of difference between SACD and CD anyway. It's one of many reasons I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to sign up for Neil Young's Pono music service.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

College Radio Show: WDCV 88.3 FM, April 1991

WDCV 88.3, Dickinson College, April 1991, DJ Pete Bilderback by Pete Bilderback on Mixcloud

This is another of my college radio shows that I recorded. I don't believe this was my finest hour. The tape is dated April 1991, so this would have been just before I graduated. I seem to have already checked out. Three times I just let a record run into the next track, including the entire three song b-side of Sebadoh's "Gimme Indie Rock" 7". On the positive side, I let a little kid do one of the station IDs. I recorded some Beat Happening LPs over side two of the cassette, so I'm guessing the show didn't get any better from there.

A lot of my better radio shows went missing when my car was broken into outside the 9:30 Club (in the nearby paid lot no less). Or at least, I'd like to believe they were better than this.

Includes music by: Antietam, Dogbowl, The Fluid, Hypnolovewheel, Icky Joey, TAD, Beat Happening, Azalia Snail, Fishbone, Sly & The Family Stone, Buffalo Tom, Bongwater and Yo La Tengo.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Robyn Hitchcock - The Ghost In You

Robyn Hitchcock has a new album, The Man Upstairs, scheduled for release on August 26th on Yep Roc. Produced by the legendary Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., Chris McGregor) the album features a mix of covers and originals, including a lovely version of The Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost In You."

Hitchcock has actually been covering this song on and off live for many years now, and it's nice to see it make an official album appearance.  Back in 1988, A&M Records released a different version as the b-side to a promo 12" of "One Long Pair Of Eyes" to promote the Queen Elvis album. This version was recorded live at McCabe's Guitar Shop on July 30th 1988. I've uploaded a recording of it to youtube for listening and comparison.

I quite like the new, more arranged version, but this stark, beautiful solo acoustic version is tough to top.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Have eBay Flippers Ruined Record Store Day?

I see grumbling along these lines every year: "Record Store Day is supposed to be about getting people back into brick and mortar record stores, but everything just ends up on eBay for crazy prices. eBay flippers have ruined Record Store Day for everyone!"

It's a fair point, and one that has gotten a lot of attention this year especially after Stereogum listed "The 10 Most Expensive Record Store Day '14 Flips On Ebay," and Paul Weller, disgusted by eBay profiteering, announced he would no longer participate in Record Store Day in the future. Stories like these might lead you to conclude that everybody that waits in line on Record Store Day is doing so merely to flip what they buy on eBay for big profits. But is that really what's happening?

First off let me state that if you waited in line on Record Store Day and missed out on a release you really wanted, only to see it going for high prices on eBay, that's really annoying. I'm sorry that happened to you. But if you take a step back and look at it statistically, I think you'll see that eBay sales, while numerous and sometimes profitable, only account for a small percentage of Record Store Day action.

Let's take one release as a case study. It's one I was very happy to score a copy of, and seems to have generated a lot of post Record Store Day eBay sales: Devo Live At Max's Kansas City, November 15, 1977.

So far, by my count, 119 copies of this release have sold on eBay for prices ranging from a high of $107.50 to a low of $32 (I bought mine at retail for $20). In addition, there appear to be 28 copies currently listed for sale on eBay. That's a total of 147 copies sold or listed on eBay so far. That's a lot, but considering the release was limited to 2,000 copies it still only accounts for about 7.4% of the total. The vast majority of the other 1,853 copies have likely made it into the praying hands of happy Devo fans or are still sitting in brick and mortar retailers waiting for happy spud boys and girls to discover them. Of course it's likely that more copies will find their way onto eBay in the future, but I doubt it will ever amount to more than say 15% of the total pressed.

By contrast, a less in demand title like Grant Hart's Every Everything LP+DVD set has generated a mere 15 sales on eBay so far, but I was no less excited to score a copy of it on Record Store Day. There are currently another 11 copies for sale on eBay (some with a "buy it now" price below what I paid in store last Saturday). Despite the fact that only 1,500 copies of this title were pressed, eBay sales account for less than 2% of the total at the moment.

It would take a far more patient person than myself to do a rigorous statistical analysis of what percentage of Record Store Day releases end up being flipped on eBay. I'm fairly confident however that the actual number would be fairly small, likely below 10%.

I realize this is cold comfort to you if you missed out on the one Record Store Day 2014 release you really wanted. If you find yourself in this situation, I would urge you to be patient. Every year immediately after Record Store Day certain items go for big money on eBay, and every year those prices come back down to earth within a week or two. Before bidding on eBay, I would recommend calling some record stores listed in the Record Store Day registry and ask if they still have copies of what you want in stock. You would be surprised how much Record Store Day inventory (even the more in demand titles) doesn't sell on Record Store Day. Bigger stores like Bull Moose and Amoeba list their unsold stock online the day after Record Store Day for retail price (plus shipping of course). If you do end up going the eBay route, I strongly recommend waiting a week or so when there is a very good chance you'll find what you want for only a moderate markup.

I've helped out at my local independent retailer--In Your Ear Records in Warren, RI--the past few years, and I've seen first hand that they do an enormous amount of business on Record Store Day--far more than normal. Most of people who come into the store seem only marginally interested in the limited edition Record Store Day releases, and are happy to browse and soak up the fun ambiance of the day as local DJs spin tunes and local artists play their music. Many of these customers come to the counter with large stacks of new and used records and/or CDs. Hopefully some of them will come back on other days of the year.

The folks who run Record Store Day have penalties in place for record stores that flip on eBay (they can lose ordering privileges), and most record stores limit the number of copies of Record Store Day merchandise individual customers can buy. Beyond that, there is very little that can be done about eBay flipping. All other solutions amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The bottom line is that Record Store Day really has been good for record stores (if it weren't, you would see more stores refuse to participate) and eBay flipping is little more than a minor sideshow (albeit an annoying one). And if you're desperate for the R.E.M. Unplugged box set, remember it's going to be released digitally eventually anyway.