Friday, December 12, 2014

Tartan Horde - "Bay City Rollers We Love You"

Released by United Artists in 1975, The Tartan Horde's "Bay City Rollers We Love You" was a contract breaking scheme that backfired. Nick Lowe's band Brinsley Schwarz broke up in 1975 and Lowe found himself stuck under contract to their label, United Artists. Lowe was eager to move on, so he and manager Jake Riviera cooked up a scheme to get the label to dump him. Lowe produced a tongue-in-cheek homage to Scottish teenybopper phenomena The Bay City Rollers under the pseudonym The Tartan Horde assuming the label would be horrified by it and drop him straight away.

Unfortunately, the execs at UA liked what they heard and gave the song a worldwide release. The single predictably tanked everywhere in the world, except for Japan where it became a surprise smash hit. UA was so pleased with the sales that they demanded a follow up. Lowe obliged with a second Tartan Horde single, "Rollers Show" which sold miserably and finally got him out of his contract with UA leaving him free to record for Riviera's fledgling independent label, Stiff Records.

Anyway, that's the story. There's just one problem: I think the song is really good. Sure it's clear that Nick is having a bit of fun here, and there is an element of absurdity involved. But the craftsmanship is extremely solid and the song gets under your skin like only really great pop music can. More than a little effort was put into creating this confection. No right thinking rocker would have admitted to it in 1975, but I detect at least a hint of genuine affection for the Bay City Rollers in this contract-breaking tribute.

Nick discusses his mixed feelings about the song below. He calls the song "utterly ghastly" and "truly awful," but also expresses a certain amount of pride in it at the same time.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Small Business Saturday Mix

Here's another DJ set, this one from Small Business Saturday. Don't forget to support small business this holiday season.

Mudhoney - I Like It Small
Led Zeppelin - Trampled Under Foot
Tyrannosaurus Rex - Deboraarobed
Ty Segall - It's Over
White Reaper - Conspirator
The Flamin' Groovies - Slow Death
The Stooges - Down In The Street
David Bowie - Cactus
Adam Ant - Desperate But Not Serious
The Flying Lizards - Money (That's What I Want)
Big Audio Dynamite - V. Thirteen [Extended Remix]
The Jimmy Castor Bunch - Troglodyte (Cave Man)
Tom Tom Club - Wordy Rappinghood [Special 12" Version]
Blondie - Rip Her To Shreds
Family Fodder - Debbie Harry
The Marvelettes - Beechwood 4-5789
The Stroke Band - Son Of Sam
Game Theory - Nine Lives To Rigel Five
The Three O'Clock - On My Own (With Strings)
The Teardrop Explodes - Reward
Echo & the Bunnymen - Angels And Devils

Thursday, November 06, 2014

King Kong's Thanksgiving Shindig: A Musical Tribute To The Eighth Wonder Of The World

A little early perhaps, but I put together a playlist inspired by the original 1933 King Kong as well as WOR-TV's annual Thanksgiving broadcast of King Kong, Son Of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. Have A Monsterous Holiday!

Max Steiner - "Entrance Of Kong"
David Bowie - "Beauty And The Beast"
The Kinks - "King Kong"
Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters - "Super Ape"
William Onyeabor - "Jungle Gods"
David Carroll And His Orchestra - "Jungle Drums"
New York Dolls - "Stranded In The Jungle"
The Dickies - "You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)"
OFF! - "King Kong Brigade"
The Jimmy Castor Bunch - "King Kong"
The Time - "Jungle Love"
Bow Wow Wow - "King Kong"
Alex Chilton - "Forbidden Love"
The Cramps - "Jungle Hop"
Junior Walker & The All Stars - "Monkey Jump"
K. McCarty - "Like A Monkey In A Zoo"
The 13th Floor Elevators - "Monkey Island"
Departure Lounge- "King Kong Frown"
Tom Waits - "King Kong"
Pixies- "Monkey Gone To Heaven"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Game Theory - Dead Center, etc. Reissue

Omnivore's comprehensive reissue campaign of Scott Miller's seminal 80s band Game Theory continues on November 24th with the reissue of the band's 1984 French compilation LP, Dead Center. Omnivore will also reissue the two EPs that much of Dead Center's material was drawn from, Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion, on 10" vinyl EPs for Record Store Day Black Friday on November 28th. The music on these releases represent a critical, but often overlooked, period in Game Theory's history.

Pointed Accounts Of People You Know (1983).

Game Theory followed their home recorded debut, 1982's Blaze Of Glory, with a studio recorded six-track EP, Pointed Accounts Of People You Know in 1983. This was followed in 1984 by the Michael Quercio produced, five-track EP, Distortion in 1984. Both these EPs were transitional efforts that featured some outstanding new songs from rapidly maturing songwriter Scott Miller, including the wistful "Penny Things Won't" and "Metal And Glass Exact" from Pointed Accounts, and "Nine Lives To Rigel Five" and "The Red Baron" from Distortion. These are brilliant songs that can stand proudly alongside anything that came out of the American independent underground in the 1980s and remained staples of the band's live sets for years. "College Rock," "Alternative," "Indie Pop," "Power Pop," "Paisley Underground," call them whatever you want, these songs conform in some ways to each of these labels but are also what Duke Ellington liked to call "beyond category" (his highest compliment and mine).

Distortion (1984).

The EPs also feature several songs from the band's bass player Fred Juhos, including "I Wanna Get Hit By A Car" from Pointed Accounts and "Kid Convenience" from Distortion. Juhos was a fine songwriter, but he was not Miller's equal, and his songs do not always sound of a piece with Miller's which gives the EPs a slightly disjointed quality. There are worse things than a young band with two talented songwriters moving in different directions.

Later in 1984 the French label, Lolita, who had taken an interest in the California "Paisley Underground" scene to which Game Theory was tangentially connected, decided to re-release some of the EP material on a compilation LP. Dead Center includes two songs recorded specifically for the LP, "Dead Center" (which had also been released in an entirely different version on a flexi disc) and a cover of The Box Tops' "The Letter." All of Juhos' material, save "37th Day" was dropped from the LP, and the result is a more coherent sounding release, which one could almost consider Game Theory's second album, depending on how much of a discographical purist you are.

Dead Center (1984).

Omnivore's reissues of Pointed Accounts Of People You Know and Distortion will be available only on vinyl, and will match the track listings of the original releases precisely. Omnivore chose to break from strict historical accuracy by shrinking the records' size from 12" to 10" and pressing them on colored vinyl. Each EP will include a digital download card that allows the purchaser access to MP3s of the recordings featured on the EPs, plus the eleven bonus tracks featured on the Dead Center reissue (more on that in a moment). These are being released as part of Record Store Day's Black Friday event and will be limited edition pressings.

Dead Center will be reissued on CD only with slightly different artwork than what was featured on the original Lolita LP. The Dead Center reissue does not feature any of the Fred Juhos penned songs from the EPs (my understanding is that this was done by Fred's request), and will include all of the Scott Miller songs from the EPs, plus the two songs recorded specifically for the LP. It also includes 11 bonus tracks, 10 of them previously unreleased. These include live cuts, covers (including Badfinger's "No Matter What," Roxy Music's "Mother of Pearl," R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe," and Them's "Gloria"), as well as the flexi disc version of "Dead Center." If you are confused, that's perfectly understandable. I present the track listings for each release below.

UPDATE 11/28/2014: The MP3 downloads for the two RSD EPs contain the contents of respective EPs only (no bonus tracks).

Dead Center (release date 11/24/14) CD/digital track list:

3. DEAD CENTER (French LP Version)
14. TROUBLE (Live)
16. GLORIA (Live)
17. TOO LATE FOR TEARS (Michael Q’s “George Martin” Rough Mix)
20. SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE (Radio Session)
21. DEAD CENTER (Flexi Disc Version)

 Pointed Accounts Of People You Know (release date 11/28/14) vinyl 10" EP track list:



Side 2:
3. 37th DAY

Distortion (release date 11/28/14) vinyl 10" EP track list:
Side 1:

Side 2:

David Bowie Fan Club

Ch-ch-ch-changes...David Bowie fan club flyer from 1977. This came with some original copies of his brilliant Low album. Adjusted for inflation the $5 membership cost would be $19.64 today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

This was my latest DJ set. I stuck mostly to R&B and Soul rather than my usual mix and match approach.

Five Du-Tones - "Shake A Tail Feather" 
Ronnie Mitchell - "Having A Party"
The Swingin' Medallions - "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)"
Big Maybelle - "96 Tears"
Raphael Saadiq - "Heart Attack" (for Guy Benoit)
The Mar-Keys - "Banana Juice"
Bunny Sigler - "Lovey Dovey & (You're So Fine)"
Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers - "Emulsified"
Shorty Long - "Devil With The Blue Dress On"
The Velvelettes - "He Was Really Saying Something"
The Bandwagon - "Breakin' Down The Walls Of Heartache"
Booker T. & The MG's - "Time Is Tight"
The Mad Lads - "No Strings Attached"
Chuck Wood - "Seven Days Too Long"
Marvin Gaye - "That's The Way Love Is"
Ray Bryant Combo - "Madison Time"
Aretha Franklin - "Spanish Harlem"
Billy Preston - "My Sweet Lord"
Curtis Mayfield - "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go"
The Mystic Moods - "Cosmic Sea"
Nina Simone - "To Love Somebody"
Al Green - "L-O-V-E (Love)"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Chills - BBC Sessions

Fire records will release a compilation of the sessions The Chills recorded for the BBC on November 3rd, 2014. The Chills recorded three separate four-songs sessions for the BBC in 1985, 1987 and 1988, and all three sessions are fully accounted for on this release. This is great news for Chills fans, as the band's studio releases did not always capture the full power of which they were capable due to the limitations of the studios they worked in, and some occasionally questionable production decisions.

Track list is as follows:
1 "Rolling Moon (12/11/1985)"
2 "Brave Words (12/11/1985)"
3 "Wet Blanket (12/11/1985)"
4 "Night Of Chill Blue (12/11/1985)"
5 "Dan Destiny & The Silver Dawn (05/04/1987)"
6 "Living In A Jungle (05/04/1987)"
7 "Rain (05/04/1987)"
8 "Moonlight On Flesh (05/04/1987)"
9 "Part Past, Part Fiction (18/12/1988)"
10 "Christmas Chimes (18/12/1988)"
11 "Effloresce and Deliquesce (18/12/1988)"
12 "Dead Web (18/12/1988)"

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dan Vallor On Reissuing Game Theory's Blaze Of Glory

I had the privilege of chatting with Dan Vallor, who co-produced Omnivore Recordings' recent reissue of Game Theory's first LP, Blaze of Glory. Originally released in 1982, Blaze of Glory has been unavailable in its original mix since shortly after its original, limited release. Dan and I chatted about this reissue, the late Scott Miller, and Omnivore's plans for the rest of Game Theory's long out-of-print catalog. Dan's enthusiasm for Game Theory's music and his determination that his friend's music be released with the love and care it deserves was evident at every moment during our conversation.

Could you give me a little background on your involvement with the band?
I met Scott and the band in the late winter/early spring of 1983, shortly after Blaze of Glory came out. I was introduced by a friend of mine who was a DJ at San Francisco State's college radio station, and was friends with Steve Wynn [Dream Syndicate] who was at UC Davis's radio station at that time. Scott was friends with Steve, and so we met through that connection.

And you served as a tour manager for them?
Yeah, I was their tour manager and sound engineer. My first tour was after Distortion was released and shortly after Real Nighttime was recorded, so this was the Fall of 1984. I had done some tours with Tav Falco's Panther Burns, The Rain Parade and The Long Ryders and I had worked with Game Theory around California and after Distortion came out. After Distortion's release we did a cross-country tour that ended rather catastrophically (we sacrificed the return home half of our tour when a better offer was dangled in front of us but that offer never came through…this resulted in a level of stress and poverty that eventually splintered the band). And then we did another tour in '85 with a new line up (just Scott and I from the prior tour) when we recorded Big Shot Chronicles in Winston-Salem. And then I took some time off and didn't do any touring for several years until the last lineup, the unreleased lineup, with Jozef Becker and Michael Quercio. We did a couple brief West Coast trips with that lineup. That was, by far, the best of all of my touring experiences.

I think there might be a track that came out on the Tinkers To Evers To Chance compilation from that lineup.
Right. Scott had mixed feelings about some of the original recordings on some of his older material. At the time, he wanted to re-record an Alternate Learning [Scott's pre-Game Theory band] song. He very much wanted things to be in a perfect state based on where he was at a given time creatively. So he wanted to re-work some of the original tapes, re-record some things, remix other things. He did that for Tinkers To Evers To Chance and for the Distortion of Glory CD that was released on the Alias label.

But Blaze of Glory is coming out now in its original form, re-mastered from the original master tapes?
That's correct. The band formed in August 1982, and I think they recorded Blaze of Glory in December of that year. It was fast-moving because by late winter it was out. And that's what you hear with this release.

I was curious about the artwork. I've never seen a copy of the original album, and I go to a lot of record stores.
You wouldn't have necessarily seen it unless you lived in Northern California, the Sacramento/Davis or Bay Areas. I think Scott sent some out to some radio stations and record stores to try and get greater distribution. But, the album was pretty hard to come by outside of Northern California.

So it was originally packaged in a garbage bag?
It was packaged in a small, white kitchen garbage bag. Inside was a lyric sheet and on the outside were stickers pasted onto the plastic bag. The Omnivore LP reissue is on a plain white sleeve with stickers that are similar to the original stickers that were pasted on. It was their idea but it's pretty much what my original copy looks like now, because storing an LP in a plastic bag is not really ideal. I remember the day we left for the tour in '84, I had a stack of the LPs that were already slightly warped from not being stored in jackets. I gave them all to a DJ friend from Berkeley who had driven up from the Bay Area to see us off.

That can be problem that with innovative packaging for LPs. You'll find that with copies of Public Image Limited’s Metal Box too.
Yeah it's funny, the first Alternate Learning 7" EP, which well preceded Blaze of Glory, was packaged with about ten pages of small inserts of varying sizes inside the sleeve, and some of those warped as well because there was so much bulk inside the sleeve. That imaginative packaging that Scott did was great, but sometimes it was hard on the vinyl.

Whose idea was to get this stuff reissued? Who was the prime mover behind this project?
Well Scott and I had been working on getting things out again for quite some time before he passed. And it was kind of a long process that had become rather frustrating. He had turned the effort over to me to figure out where to get them reissued. After he died it took a while for me to have the strength to revisit the project, it was hard but I eventually continued to work on it…it remained as important to me as it had been to us.

So this is very personal for you?
Yes. Immediately after he was gone I was sort of out of my mind. I couldn't think about reissues. Then in December of last year I tentatively approached a label that I thought he would've been really happy to be on, and they were very receptive but it didn't fit into their release schedule. Essentially we were in the midst of conversations with that label when I got a note from Robert Torin (who was the photographer for Game Theory and Loud Family) saying I should talk to Jonathan Segel from Camper Van Beethoven. They were in the process of reissuing their Virgin albums on Omnivore and Jonathan approached me and asked whether we would be interested in working with Omnivore as well. I knew Pat Thomas from his days in San Francisco (he owned Heyday Records and released albums from Barbara Manning, Chris Von Sneidern, Crazy Horse and many more), so when the discussions with the first label broke down, I went straight to Omnivore and said "let's do this." It was very easy to come to terms with them and they were very enthusiastic. Most importantly for me, Omnivore were in total agreement with Scott Vanderbilt (whose label owns the original albums) and myself about releasing these albums without exploiting Scott's passing and with respect for Scott's family.
I can't say enough good things about Omnivore. I knew we were in the right place when Pat went to pick up the original master tapes from Scott Vanderbilt, and he had all these boxes of tapes in his car, and he called me and said it was emotionally overwhelming for him to have all that stuff with him. To be honest, it was emotionally overwhelming for me to hear his response and to know that the tapes were finally in the hands of a label committed to doing them right after all these years. When you hear something like that you really know you're in the right place.

Were the original master tapes all available and in good shape?
Yeah. So far everything has been usable. We had some trouble finding a few tracks, but ultimately we located everything. We had to bake the tapes to make sure that they were pliable so they wouldn't fall apart when they get put on the machine. We have all of the original recordings and they sound excellent. 
Beyond that, when I was working with the band I sort of obsessively archived and documented them. I would frequently run the sound that I was mixing into the PA and run a sub mix into a tape recorder to record their sets. So I've got a whole lot of live recordings. And Scott had also turned over a whole lot of recordings to me over the years (I suppose he was less sentimental about those sorts of things than me in many ways…probably less of a hoarder too). Scott gave me a lot of recordings that no one had ever heard and we did some recording together as well. Kristine, his wife, and I went through what he had kept, and I'm working on doing high resolution 32 bit digitizations of those tapes for Omnivore. There's a whole lot of unreleased material. Some of it is unusable, and some of it is transcendently beautiful. For instance, for Blaze of Glory we reached all the way back to junior high. We used some little humorous tapes that Jozef [Becker] and Scott made when they were in seventh or eighth grade. He and Jozef would do these little musique concrète kind of things, little experimental vignettes, mashup kind of things. And what I guess you could call little skits. They were sort of done in an Ernie Kovacs style (he was an experimental comedian from the late 50s early 60s). 
We also took one track off the first Alternate Learning EP, three tracks off the Alternate Learning album, and then a batch of songs that Scott had given to me. And we had some good live takes that were from the original version of the band. These came from a local show in Sacramento and a live in the studio radio broadcast from when the band was first starting out. 
Have you heard of The Twinkeyz? They released two singles in 1977, one was called "Aliens In Our Midst." It was this amazing DIY record and is considered a classic by the DIY crowd, and I agree with that assessment. The band broke up in around 1979, and we included a recording of the leader of The Twinkeyz, Donnie Jupiter, making his first appearance since the band broke up performing with Game Theory. That’s one of the bonus tracks on the album.

Dan shared a lot of information with me about the other upcoming Omnivore Game Theory reissues, but since the details are still in flux out I can't share them with you (yet). What I can tell you is that all of the original Game Theory releases, both EPs and full length albums, will be represented. Current plans include a special "golden ticket" item that will be randomly included with one of the releases. All the albums will be remastered from the original master tapes, and each will include bonus tracks. There will be some unexpected covers, and at least one song will appear as a bonus track in a much longer version than was previously released.

In addition Dan told me:
All the bonus material that was on the Alias CDs of Real Nighttime and Big Shot Chronicles will be on the Omnivore releases. Although there are a couple switches. The Alias version of Real Nighttime was taken straight from the Enigma CD that was very briefly available. So it was basically the same digital master used by both Enigma and Alias. And the mistake that they made on Real Nighttime was they took the cover of Todd Rundgren's "Couldn't I Just Tell You" that was recorded for Big Shot Chronicles and they put it on the Real Nighttime CD. And then they took the song "Faithless," which was actually Fred Juhos' (from the Real Nighttime lineup) song, and they put that on Big Shot Chronicles. So those and one other will be switched back to their proper places. It's the kind of small thing that I think needs to be corrected.

Now that you mention it, sound-wise it's kind of obvious that "Couldn't I Just Tell You" doesn't really fit on Real Nighttime. It does sound more of a piece with Big Shot Chronicles.
Yeah. Particularly the difference in drumming style between Dave Gill and Gil Ray. You know, Scott's work with drummers can't be understated. He picked great drummers with their own styles, and the drummers that he worked with tended to be very interesting and integral to the projects that he was working on. And the recording is also different. Real Nighttime was recorded in Newark, California in the East Bay, Big Shot Chronicles was recorded at Mitch Easter's Drive In Studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where REM's early records and Pylon's wonderful albums were recorded). So it is a different sound with each recording.
Having received my copy of Blaze of Glory (on pink vinyl, of course), I can echo all the positive things Dan said about Omnivore. Every aspect of this reissue has been done right: the packaging, the liner notes, the bonus material, the sound quality. Omnivore even gets the little things like the metadata on the downloadable MP3s perfect. The music was beautifully remastered for LP by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, and the pressing on pink vinyl is noise free.

The music itself is the work of an extremely precocious young man and his talented cohorts who are bursting with melodic ideas and discovering the power of the recording studio. Finally hearing the album the way it went down back in 1982 is a positively electrifying experience. Occasionally, Miller's grasp exceeds his reach, but the home recorded quality has a substantial charm all its own. If this were the last we heard of Scott Miller and Game Theory, Blaze of Glory would be hailed as an obscure masterpiece among those who dig smart pop music. As it is, Miller would go on to create better, more fully realized music, but this Blaze of Glory reissue demonstrates that everything that made Game Theory great was in place from the beginning, just sometimes in embryonic form.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Game Theory - Blaze Of Glory

In one of the earliest posts I made on this blog back in the far off land of 2006 I lamented the sad state of Game Theory's catalog. A lot has happened since then, including sadly the untimely passing of Scott Miller, but one thing hasn't: Game Theory's albums remain ridiculously hard to obtain legitimately and fetch absurdly high prices among collectors.  Fortunately, thanks to Omnivore recordings, that will not be the case much longer. They have just announced a series of expanded reissues of the much loved Davis, CA group's albums.

The first reissue, appropriately enough, will be the band's debut album, Blaze Of Glory. This looks to be something special because it hasn't been available since its initial release in 1982. (It was kinda reissued on CD by Alias years ago, but that version was remixed and some songs were later re-recordings). In all my years of record collecting I've never once seen a copy of this record in a store, and even I, Game Theory devotee that I am, do not own a copy. Omnivore's reissue will be remastered from the original master tapes.

The album will be reissued on CD, limited edition pink vinyl LP (black to follow), and as a digital download. It will feature 15 bonus tracks, including recordings from Scott's pre-Game Theory outfit, Alternate Learning. Omnivore promises reissues of Real Nighttime, Lolita Nation and other Game Theory favorites are on the horizon. Thank you Omnivore!

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.

Record Store Day 2014: DJ Set

Here's the first hour of the set I DJ'd at In Your Ear Records for Record Store Day. Unfortunately, if you wanted to hear the part where I played the Fat Boys you had to have been there. Let that be a lesson to you.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Could Pono Really (Really) Make Digital Music Sound Better?

In my last post about PonoMusic I expressed skepticism about whether their music files would actually sound significantly better, and criticized them for what I consider misleading advertising as it pertains to "high-resolution" digital recordings. I also promised to keep an open mind, and today I want to entertain the possibility that PonoMusic might end up being a good thing for sound quality despite my skepticism.

So far all of Pono's marketing as it pertains to the sound quality of the music they will be selling has focused on the sampling rate and bit depth of digital recordings. Again from their FAQ:

No.  We want to be very clear that PonoMusic is not a new audio file format or standard.  It is an end-to-end ecosystem for music lovers to get access to and enjoy their favorite music in the highest resolution possible for that song or album.  The music in the store is sold and downloaded in industry standard audio file formats.  

The PonoMusic Store uses FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) audio format as its standard, for compatibility, although the PonoPlayer can play most popular high-resolution music formats from other sources.  PonoMusic has a quality spectrum, ranging from really good to really great, depending on the quality of the available master recordings: 
•    CD lossless quality recordings: 1411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16 bit) FLAC files
•    High-resolution recordings: 2304 kbps (48 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
•    Higher-resolution recordings: 4608 kbps (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
•    Ultra-high resolution recordings: 9216 kbps (192 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
In short, what this is telling us is that Pono will not be offering any kind of breakthrough in digital music technology. 192 kHZ/24bit PCM digital audio has been available in some form or another to consumers at least since the introduction of DVD-Audio nearly 15 years ago. There are already other digital music retailers that offer high-resolution digital music files for download. Likewise, the FLAC format is something of an industry standard for lossless compressed audio (although someone might want to alert Apple to that fact).

This is actually a good thing. The last thing we need at this juncture is a new digital format that isn't compatible with other players or current stereo equipment. Pono has not reinvented the wheel here, and there is no reason why they should. The music from their store will likely work with the equipment you already have (if you are an iTunes user you'll need to convert those FLAC files to something like AIFF or Apple Lossless files, but that is a topic for another day). In addition, their player will play the digital files you already own, as they have promised support for most varieties of PCM based audio files, including the kind Apple currently sells. In my view these are both sensible choices.

So if PonoMusic will not be offering anything new under the sun, why do I hold out hope that their product might actually lead to better sounding music for consumers? The answer, ironically, lies with the precedent set by Apple with their "Mastered for iTunes" program. Mastered for iTunes is a set of tools and best practice standards that Apple has made available to labels to create better sounding iTunes music files. I encourage you to read PDF Apple has made available on mastering music for iTunes, as it contains a set of common sense guidelines without excessive marketing hype. It suggests to me that Apple has a very good understanding of what some of the real problems with current digital music are: namely, excessive use of dynamic range compression and digital clipping. It has been my experience that the care that goes into making music sound its best at the mastering stage matters more (much more) than the eventual sample rate and bit depth delivered to the consumer.

It has long been my view that the mastering process is the critical phase in music production that really needs to be addressed and improved. By and large it is at the mastering stage where sound quality is really getting messed up these days. I applaud Apple for taking steps to address this problem.

If Pono were to issue a similar set of guidelines to labels on best practices for mastering audio for PonoMusic, I think there is a real possibility it could result in better sounding digital music releases. Were Pono to leverage its influence to urge labels to ease back on dynamic range compression, avoid digital clipping, and not apply excessive frequency equalization, it would result in audibly better sounding music and differences that really could easily be heard even at CD level (44.1kHZ/16bit) resolution. Perhaps they could create some catchy name like "PonoApproved" for digital albums that meet their sound quality standards.

Now, to be clear, I don't have any special reason to think this will happen, and given Pono's exclusive focus to date on sampling rates and bit depth as the drivers for better sound quality, I am not particularly encouraged. But some precedent for this kind of thing does exist. Also, if PonoMusic is successful, it could push other digital music retailers like iTunes to offer higher quality, lossless, downloads as an option for consumers. All these things would be very welcome developments, and I'm happy to wait and see how things shake out before issuing any final judgement on Pono. I remain skeptical, but I wish Neil Young and Pono luck in their stated goal of making digital music sound better. If they are serious about it they must take steps to demand better sounding masters from record labels, and if they succeed in doing so we all stand to benefit.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Record Store Day 2014: The Zombies

Varèse Sarabande will reissue two LPs by one of my favorite British Invasion bands, The Zombies, this Record Store Day. The first, I Love You, is a compilation LP that was originally issued only in Europe and Japan and earns its first U.S. release this Record Store Day. Most interestingly, it will be issued in mono. Personally, I tend to prefer mono mixes from this era as stereo mixing was still largely a hit or miss affair for pop music in those days. The second release is a stereo reissue of their final LP, Odessey And Oracle. I rarely see copies of this much beloved title on vinyl, so this is sure to be a popular choice. 

Varèse Sarabande has a good reputation with its Record Store Day vinyl, and if the quoted prices I'm seeing at sites like Bull Moose Music are accurate, these also look to be relatively affordable. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Record Store Day 2014: Mudhoney - On Top!

This is one Record Store Day release that I can guarantee you I am going to get by any means necessary, up to (and possibly including) felony offenses. Back in July Mudhoney played live on top of the Seattle's famed Space Needle to celebrate legendary indie-label Sub-Pop's 25th anniversary. KEXP recorded it, and now Sub-Pop is making the audio available via a limited edition LP.

You may have questions about this release: "Was the LP cut from an analog source? Did the mastering engineer maintain a 100% pure analog signal throughout the cutting process? Is the LP pressed on 180 gram virgin vinyl?" Fortunately, I have an answer for all those questions and more: "Shut up! This is Mudhoney. Live. On the Space Needle. Buy it!"

Mudhoney live on the Space Needle photo by Morgen Schuler.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Record Store Day 2014: OFF! - Learn To Obey

Another fantastic looking release for Record Store Day 2014, hardcore punk rock supergroup OFF! teams up with artist Shepard Fairey for a limited edition 7"single, "Learn To Obey." More than just a case of an artist providing cover art for a release, the artwork and music are said to be "thematically intertwined influenced by one another."

Record Store Day 2014: Grant Hart - Every Everything

Here's another Record Store Day release that caught my eye, it's a DVD/LP package that includes the documentary Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Gorman Bechard, along with a solo career spanning compilation LP entitled Some Something that includes several rare and unreleased tracks.
Vinyl and DVD packaged together exclusively for RSD. The DVD is a brand new, bold documentary of Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart soberly analyzing the 1980s while rummaging around in its soul. It all comes out with rare archival and new footage, told by an articulate, alienated and ill-tempered chronicler. The vinyl includes a collection of Grant's finest, with several rare and unreleased tracks. 
TRACK LISTING: Now That You Know Me, Roller Rink, Wheels, California Zephyr, Ballad #19, Charles Hollis Jones, Khalid, Little Nemo, Nobody Rides For Free.
Despite his sporadic (but brilliant) solo output, Hart remains a singularly fascinating and important figure in the rock music world. Bechard received excellent notices for his previous film Color Me Obsessed, a documentary about the Replacements that notably lacked any interviews with (or even footage of) the band. By contrast, it sounds like Every Everything gets up close and personal with its subject (perhaps too close for comfort sometimes). It nevertheless sounds fascinating, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Additionally, Rhino will reissue Hüsker Dü's major label debut, Candy Apple Grey, on grey vinyl. I'm not sure I need to replace my 80s vintage vinyl of this title, but it's essential listening for anyone interested in the way what is known as "alternative rock" sprung from the 80s hardcore punk rock movement. For that matter, it's essential to anyone who enjoys loud, melodic music made by a group of brilliant, iconoclastic and influential artists.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Record Store Day 2014: The Everly Brothers

Record Store Day is just under a month away and I wanted to share what I think look like some of the more interesting upcoming releases. Two of the first things that struck my eye were these Everly Brothers reissues, 1958's Songs Our Daddy Taught Us from Varese Sarabande, and 1968's Roots from Rhino. 

These are two thematically similar records in which brothers Phil and Don explore their influences, recorded ten years apart at opposite ends of their career together (Roots was in fact the final Everly Brothers album). These albums were "roots" music long before anybody else understood we needed such a thing. These albums are a timely reminder of how great, and simultaneously forward and backward looking, the Everly's could be.

I don't know if the two labels coordinated these releases, but they are perfect counterparts to one another, and an excellent place to start an Everly Brothers collection after moving on from greatest hits collections. Both Rhino and Varese Sarabande have excellent reputations when it comes to pressing vinyl, so these are both heartily recommended. 

The full list of Record Store Day releases is available here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Will PonoMusic Really Sound That Much Better?

I pulled this image from PonoMusic's (Neil Young's long gestating digital music service) kickstarter page. It appears to compare the difference in sound quality between various digital music options, from lossy compressed downloads and streaming music to 192kHz/24bit PCM digital files.

It sure looks like the files Pono's music store will offer are going to sound a lot better than what we're used to. Young describes the difference between ordinary digital files and hi-rez digital files as "surprising and dramatic," he claims they will restore the "soul" to digital music files. From Pono's FAQ:

Yes. We are confident that you will hear the difference. We're even more confident you will feel it. Everyone who’s ever heard PonoMusic will tell you that the difference is surprising and dramatic. Especially when they listen to music that they know well – their favorite music. They're amazed by how much better the music sounds – and astonished at how much detail they didn’t realize was missing compared to the original. They tell us that not only do they hear the difference; they feel it in their body, in their soul. 
Unfortunately, the above chart is more than a little misleading. There's no tidy way to show subjective differences in sound quality (i.e. what we actually hear as a music listener). What this chart actually shows is closer to the difference in file size between various digital music options.

There is really no argument that 192kHz/24bit music files will take up more space on your hard drive, and thus have more information in them, than CD quality (44.1kHz/16bit) files. It is likewise true that the CD quality files, even when losslessly compressed, will take up more space than MP3 or other lossy compressed files. If what you want is music files that are really large, the 192kHz/24bit FLAC files that Pono will be selling are definitely a good option.

Whether these files actually sound better than CD resolution files, or even higher bit rate encoded MP3s, is a subject of much more debate. Some listeners swear by so called "hi-rez" digital music, others say they can't hear a difference. Others go further and claim that it is not possible for humans to hear a difference between properly encoded CD quality digital and hi-rez digital, and say they have the science to back them up (I am not going to touch that one).

I never want to be in a position of telling people what they can or cannot hear, but I was curious if I could hear a difference between hi-rez digital files and CD quality files. The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to do an apples to apples comparison. Comparing a CD against a hi-rez digital file that was mastered differently does not tell us anything definitive about the virtues of higher sampling rates and greater bit depth.

In order to do a fair comparison, I downloaded the "Audiophile 96kHz/24bit" AIFF version of Stevie Wonder's Innervisions from HDTracks (this corresponds to the resolution of the middle yellow block on the chart above). This is music that I love and know very well, having listened to it in various music formats since the 1970s. I then made a CD resolution copy of my favorite track from the album, "Living For The City," using a high quality resampling program. I dropped both the "hi-rez" and CD quality files into a program called "ABXer" that allows you to do blind ABX comparisons between different music files. To make a long story short, despite my best efforts, I was unable to hear a difference between the two file resolutions. My final results were 5 correct identifications and 5 misidentifications, exactly the results one would expect if the test subject was guessing (which I was).

Despite being a dedicated music lover and someone who cares deeply about the quality of recorded sound (if not an "audiophile"), I don't think Pono is for me. Either my equipment (see details in comments) or my ears are not good enough to hear the difference. I'm not personally sold on the benefits of high-resolution music files for music listeners. I'm willing to keep an open mind about that, what I'm not willing to do is re-buy a lot of music I already own on the basis of misleading charts, nebulous promises about improved sound quality, and marketing hype.