Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Albums bought in 2014.

December 7th, 2014 by Reinder

Everyone's doing their end-of-year stuff already. I don't feel like I'm done trying out new albums just yet. Below, however, is the full list of albums and singles I bought (yes, bought, though I've included all the freebbies I've got as well) in 2014. In most cases, they were tested on Spotify first before I bought them, so I already knew I liked them before I spent my money. This year, I kept track of what medium I bought them in as well. Turns out I do actually still like the CD format.

Albums and singles bought/acquired in 2014, not including thrift store finds

Afterpartees - First/Last (Vinyl single, freebie, RSD, 2014)
Amsterdam Klezmer Band - Blitzmash (LP with download code, RSD) (2014)
Ian Anderson - Homo Erraticus (CD+DVD) (2014)
Ian Anderson - Thick As a Brick Live in Iceland (Blu-Ray) (2014)
Bombino - Agamgam 2004 (LP with download code, RSD) (2014)
Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (Audiophile Vinyl)
Kate Bush - The Sensual World (Audiophile Vinyl)
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Collectif Africa Stop Ebola - Africa Stop Ebola (iTunes)(2014)
Deep Purple - Black Night/Woman From Tokyo (Vinyl single, RSD) (2014)
Deep Purple - Live in Verona (DVD) (2014)
Deep Purple - Made in Japan 40th Anniversary edition, deluxe edition (2014)
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (iTunes)
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita - Clychau Dibon (CD) (2014)
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front (Blu-Ray) (2014)
Macy Gray - The Way (CD) (2014)
Dorris Henderson & John Renbourn - Here We Go (CD)
Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (40th Anniversary Edition, CD/DVD, includes the Chateau D'Hérouville Sessions) (2014)
Salif Keita - M’Bemba (CD)
Seckou Keita - Tama-Silo (CD)
Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba - Jama Ko (CD)
Bettye Lavette - Change is Gonna Come Sessions EP (iTunes)
Shelagh McDonald - Stargazer (CD, 1999 reissue)
Opeth - Pale Communion (Vinyl) (2014)
Pink Floyd - The Endless River (CD) (2014)
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974 (2CD) (2014)
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974 (DVD) (2014)
Reveller - Pulse (2:51) (CD single, freebie, RSD) (2014)
Anoushka Shankar - Traces of You (CD, bought in London)
Nina Simone - Best of (iTunes)
Saffron Summerfield - The Early Years (iTunes)
St. Vincent - Digital Witness (Vinyl single, freebie) (2014)
St. Vincent - St. Vincent (CD) (2014)
Kate Tempest - Everybody Down (CD) (2014)
Thompson - Family (CD) (2014)
The Touré-Raichel Collective - The Tel Aviv Sessions (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Tchamantche (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Tuit Tuit (Smadj Remix) (iTunes)
Rokia Traoré - Wanita (iTunes)
Rokia Traoré - Mouneïssa (iTunes)
Various - Celebrating Jon Lord (2DVD) (2014)
Various - Desert Blues 3: Entre Dunes et Savanes
Various - Prog 26: As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Free CD with Prog 26)
Various - The Dreamers (Free CD with Mojo, September 2014)
Kristeen Young - The Knife Shift (iTunes) (2014)

I'm not going to say anything about these records just yet - I just want to be able to show people this list if the topic of "what did you like in 2014" comes up, because I know it will, frequently. For convenience, here's a summary of records bought this year that were actually released in 2014:

Amsterdam Klezmer Band - Blitzmash
Ian Anderson - Homo Erraticus
Ian Anderson - Thick As a Brick Live in Iceland
Bombino - Agamgam 2004
Collectif Africa Stop Ebola - Africa Stop Ebola
Deep Purple - Black Night/Woman From Tokyo
Deep Purple - Live in Verona
Deep Purple - Made in Japan 40th Anniversary edition, deluxe edition
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita - Clychau Dibon
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front
Macy Gray - The Way
Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (40th Anniversary Edition)
Opeth - Pale Communion
Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974
Reveller - Pulse (2:51)
St. Vincent - Digital Witness
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Kate Tempest - Everybody Down
Thompson - Family
Various - Celebrating Jon Lord
Various - Prog 26: As Sure as Eggs is Eggs
Various - The Dreamers
Kristeen Young - The Knife Shift

...I don't think I've ever bought as many albums in the year they were released as this year. On the other hand, it's clear that baby boomer music still has a massive hold over me.

I got nothing….

January 25th, 2013 by Reinder

Have some Fatoumata Diawara.

Saturday Spotify 11, August 13, 2011

August 13th, 2011 by Reinder

Trying something different: I got Spotify back in April and it's really helped open up my listening habits. I've since become a paying subscriber, because even though I only have it on my computer at home, it's helped me find new (to me) music and touch base with old favorites, while keeping cost down compared to buying records.

Spotify has playlist sharing as a feature, and I've enjoyed some blogs that use sharing to spread, such as Spotify Classical. I think even more than YouTube, this feature will change how people write about music, with 'music criticism as consumer advice' becoming completely obsolete, and 'music commentary as swapping notes' replacing it. So heres an attempt, and if it's not too much work I'll do it every week or so. Here are some songs that caught my attention in the past few weeks.

This is the playlist and because I don't expect everyone to have Spotify, I'll try to find alternate links for the songs as much as possible.

1. Nicole Atkins: Brooklyn's On Fire off Neptune City, 2007.

The opening bars of this, after the instrumental intro, just fill me with joy every time I hear them. While I'm still gushing over those chanted phrases, the song develops into a lush 6/8 melody with even lusher strings. And what a voice. The one thing I am not sold on is the lead guitar, but I can ignore it easily.

2. Kate Bush: The Song of Solomon off Director's Cut, 2011

The second song on Director's Cut, and the second song I ever heard on Spotify as the main trigger for me getting Spotify was to hear this album the moment it was available. As long-term readers may have guessed from the lack of a review of the album, I'm lukewarm about Director's Cut as a whole. Some of the songs work, some don't. "Song of Solomon" is one of the songs that do deliver on the album's promise: Kate has succesfully shaken the cobwebs off the original production and added gorgeous, sexy new vocals and understated live percussion. If all of the album was this good, I'd be all over it.

3. Unicorn Ensemble: Nevestinko Oro off The Glory of Early Music, 1997.

This instrumental tune is the traditional dance that Kate Bush based "The Sensual World"/"Flower of the Mountain" on, and it's quite gorgeous in its own right. The Glory of Early Music is a Naxos compilation of music from before the era of the Classical composers, and that colours this interpretation. The version in the Youtube vid is the same one, even if credited differently.

4. The Damned: Grimly Fiendish off Phantasmagoria, 1985.

(This is an actual video, so I'm showing it larger)
I saw this on Shakesville and loved it from the opening bars on. I did find myself checking the video to see where Captain Sensible was, before concluding that evidently he wasn't on it. That shows how little I knew about the Damned: I had some inkling that they'd had a bunch of line-up changes, splits and reunions, some of which did and some which did not include the Captain. I also knew that they were one of the legends of punk rock, that they'd changed styles a lot, and that they'd made quite a few albums that didn't live up to the group's reputation. But I was fuzzy on the details, and hadn't actually heard much of their music. After hearing this, I'm trying very hard to catch up.
To some people, this early goth hit off 1985's Phantasmagoria will be among the records that don't live up to the group's reputation, but I can't get enough of it. Musically, it sounds like a cross between Adam Ant and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with harpsichords for extra colour. The delivery is confident, like a group on top of its game, and the singer's voice just fits. Phantasmagoria as a whole doesn't convince me yet, but this single is one I can listen to over and over again, and have.

5. Martyn Joseph: Giant Panda's Giant Thoughts off The Wildlife Album, 2005
I found the The Wildlife Album compilation while looking for Roy Harper songs on Spotify. The Wildlife Album is an acoustic, singer-songwriter oriented charity compilation including some big names such as Harper, Bert Jansch and Jan Akkerman, some second-tier names like Gordon Giltrap and Steve Ashley, and some artists that I hadn't heard of before at all. Martyn Joseph is in the latter category for me, and stood out because of his bluesy, tasty guitar playing. Nothing special, just very well done. Oh, and the lyrics made me laugh with their panda's-eye-view. I could not find this one on YouTube, sorry.

6. Movits!: Äppelknyckarjazz off Äppelknyckarjazz, 2008

My old friend DFG sent me this and I loved it at once. Sweden's Movits! Seem to be the missing link between Caro Emerald and Kaizers Orchestra - more polished than the latter, more edgy than the former.

7. Janelle Monáe: Tightrope featuring Big Boi, off The ArchAndroid, 2010
Video here, embedding disabled
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon repeatedly praised Janelle Monáe's concept album The ArchAndroid as the best album of 2010. I don't know if it's quite that good; it's not exactly genre-defying and the album drags a bit in the second half. But knowing me, the time to ask me what the best album of 2010 was will be around 2015.
The ArchAndroid is good enough, though, to break my resistance to contemporary R&B, and this track in particular, with its funky beat, smooth bass line and Monáe's vocals, is one of the things that have been bringing joy to my life lately.

8. Corvus Corax: Satyricon, off Seikilos, 2002

Another band that I've known about for years now, but never got around to digging into. Aggie's seen these guys live in Germany and reports that they're very good and entertaining live. I now have a Spotify playlist for this genre of music, containing about 200 tracks. This instrumental is one of their most popular and it did jump out at me at first listening. I expect there'll be more of this type of music in Saturday Spotify posts if I do more of them.

9. Happy Rhodes: Ra is a Busy God, off Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, 1998

(Video is not the studio recording, but a live recording from one of Happy Rhodes' house concerts. These have probably reached more people than the concerts originally did).
I purchased about 60 Happy Rhodes tracks in one swell foop from both iTunes and Spotify, after doing price comparisons for each album to get the cheapest combination. This did result in me getting Happy Rhodes overload, and I still have a hard time identifying which of these 60 tracks are my favorites. This track from Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, her only album that charted, is a contender. But it doesn't really matter anyway, because what I love about Happy Rhodes is her voice. I don't really care what she sings, as long as I can listen to her singing.

10. Siousxie and the Banshees: Cities in Dust, off Tinderbox, 1986.

For years I had this mentally misfiled as being by Sinéad O'Connor. Upon hearing it again, it doesn't sound as big as I remembered it, but I also find it a lot more enjoyable now that I've stopped fetishising guitar-based rock like I used to. The mid-eighties generally were a much better musical period than I remembered them being.

11. Amy Winehouse: Rehab off Back to Black, 2006.

You know this. You've probably heard it enough to get sick of it. I for one am not sick of it yet. After Amy Winehouse was found dead in her hotel room, one of my Facebook friends referred to it as an "unintentionally ironic anthem to denial and an unexamined life" (among other unkind words), which did not make sense to me until I realised that what he actually meant, whether he realised it or not, was that "Rehab" was a completely flawless creation: a work of art so perfect that all the self-observation, self-reflection, and self-interrogation that went into making it have become invisible. What a compliment to pay to an artist on the occasion of her death! The song also has a good beat to it.

(This was written over the course of an afternoon inbetween doing about 500 other things, because there are two people in the house who are sick and neither of them is me. Perhaps I'm better off posting vids to Facebook/Waffle in drips and drabs like that Facebook friend does)

Kate Bush cover of the Day # 1: Wuthering Heights by Pat Benatar

April 12th, 2011 by Reinder

To fill the time while waiting for The Director's Cut, I'm gonna post a Kate Bush cover every day for a while. In the past decade, covers of Kate's work have proliferated and I expect to be easily able to fill a month.
Canadian singer Pat Benatar was probably the first person to cover a Kate song, back in 1980, so who better to kick off with. Until today, I had never heard this version in my life, but it's actually pretty good. Not the most imaginative one, especially tempo-wise, but pleasing to the ears.

Review Backlog: Randy Newman

October 24th, 2010 by Reinder

Randy Newman (composer): The Princess and the Frog Original Soundtrack
2009, purchased via iTunes, January 2010

I used to dislike Randy Newman's music, or at least the music he released under his own name. I hated his voice: slurred, mumbly and capable of communicating only one attitude: sarcasm. I found his choice of subject matters lazy and the endless stream of character-based songs tiresome. I was aware that some or all of these criticisms could be leveled at some of my favorite songwriters (I'm a rabid Richard Thompson fan, and he writes in-character songs that he performs with a severely limited vocal ability), but in Randy Newman's case, I found the combination particularly grating.

Over time, though, I did learn to appreciate that Randy Newman could put words together like few other songwriters could, and that his melodic and lyrical style and piano arrangements were always instantly recognisable. And I did like his soundtrack for the movie Ragtime when I watched that many years ago. Unsurprisingly, then, I was delighted while watching The Princess and the Frog last Christmas, to recognise Newman's style from the first few notes of the first song that was played. I would get to hear Newman's writing for characters that weren't set up for him to mock, and I would get to hear them performed by singers who aren't Randy Newman. In my review of the movie, I already mentioned that the songs fit the characters and pace of the movie well. A year later, I can also confirm that they stand up well on their own. My favourite of the songs is "Friends on the Other Side" performed by Keith David and with irresistably menacing, bass backing vocals that are just barely under control. "Down In New Orleans" performed by none other than Dr. John, is another great performance that makes me wonder what Randy Newman's regular albums would sound like if Dr. John performed them. On the other hand, it took me a while to warm to the instrumentals without the visuals to accompany them. They are perfectly listenable, but on their own, they are incomplete.

One odd track out is "Never Knew I Needed", which I don't even remember from viewing the movie, but which must have been played over the end credits. It's a straightforward R&B track written and performed by Ne-Yo. It's a good song that managed to break through my resistance against electronics-heavy R&B, but it does not belong in the same musical universe as the rest of the music on this record.

Review backlog: Richard Thompson, Alice Cooper, Fleet Foxes

October 23rd, 2010 by Reinder

Lately I've been reading more music blogging, both from my perennial favourite Popular and the now defunct but fully archived The War Against Silence. Popular is of course Tom Ewing's rundown of every UK number 1 since the charts started. The War Against Silence was a deeply engaged, deeply subjective run-down of all the albums and singles glenn mcdonald bought and found worth writing about - and boy did he buy a lot! TWAS comes very close to my ideal of how to write about music, and indeed has already helped form that idea within weeks of me plunging into the archives: glenn's writing is passionate, informed, based on a catholic taste with few genre-related biases, and most of all explicitly rejects the Robert Christgau model of music reviewing as consumer advice, a model of which the limitations become painfully obvious from diving into Christgau's own online archives or checking his reviews of older albums that have since become foundational records for entire genres of music.

Reading TWAS has made me more interested in writing more music reviews myself, and writing them in a manner that is more similar to his approach, hopefully without copying it wholesale. So I've decided to go back to where I mostly stopped writing about music and review the records I've bought since, in more or less chronological order based on when I bought them. I rarely actually buy music the year it comes out and am often happy to get to know an artist more than a decade after I've become aware of them. This is why I don't do End-Of-Year-Lists: they'd all be full of albums released ten years before the year under review.

Richard Thompson: Daring Adventures
1986, purchased in Nashville, Tennessee, November 2009
Of course, the first problem I run into is that I might as well copy wholesale what glenn mcdonald wrote about Thompson's Amnesia, swap out the album title and call it my review of Daring Adventures:

I love [Daring Adventures]. I rarely see anybody else cite it as one of Richard Thompson's finest moments, and if I had to weigh in on that subject in front of a critical audience I suppose even I'd probably chicken out and side predictably with I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight or Shoot Out the Lights. Those are important albums. [Daring Adventures] is not important. But it is, I've discovered, [a] Richard Thompson album I [enjoy a lot], even more than Watching the Dark for all its stunning live recordings. I pull out a whole row of them, and look over their track listings, and even though there are dozens of great Richard Thompson songs that [Daring Adventures] doesn't have, I remember what listening to those ten songs in that order feels like.

And so on. See? That works quite well. The individual songs don't have exact analogues like that, but they do have "Jerry Scheff's gruff bass and Thompson's berserk solos". I don't quite see eye to eye with mcdonald about the other albums, mainly because I don't think the rest of Thompson's Mitchell Froom-produced work was on quite as bad a downward trajectory as he thinks it was (though as someone who got on the Thompson train with Mock Tudor - in the year it came out, no less - I was glad that he changed producers and approaches). But there is a freshness to both Daring Adventures and Amnesia that the albums from Rumor and Sigh on did not have. Some of the songwriting sounds like a repeat of earlier work: "Baby Talk" for instance has a clear ancestor in "Tear-Stained Letter" from Hands of Kindness, but is still enjoyable on its own terms. Daring Adventures is not a great album, but it is a very good one that fulfilled my need for Richard Thompson music between November 2009 and the day I bought Dream Attic.

Alice Cooper: Trash
Alice Cooper: Hey Stoopid
Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation of Alice
1989, 1990, 1994. 3-pack of CDs, bought in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in December, 2009

But by December of that same year, after months of buying no music because I was stashing all my disposable income into my savings account, I needed a larger music fix. At that point, it would not even have to be music I loved - I was quite happy to get some music I knew I would kinda sorta like, knowing it is cheese. So when I saw a rack full of cheaper-than-iTunes, 3-in-one CD packages and noticed that one of the items on sale was an Alice Cooper three-pack, I told Aggie: "I know this is cheese, but I'm buying it anyway."
At the time, that might not have been entirely fair on Alice Cooper. I knew the singles that came from these albums, "Poison", "Trash", "Bed of Nails" and "Hey Stoopid", but not much else. I knew that Trash was the third album after Alice had come out of rehab, and that the post-rehab albums tended to alternate between commercial (Constrictor, Poison) and heavy rock-oriented (Raise Your Fist And Yell, Hey Stoopid, but I had more or less lost interest by the time The Last Temptation came out, even though it was cross-marketed with a comic written by Neil Gaiman.
But even with that in mind, I realised that the only way I'd be able to handle three Alice Cooper albums at once was by sticking them in the random iTunes rotation. So I did, and a year later, each of the tracks on the albums has only been played six or seven times. And they're wearing out their welcome. There are a few standouts, mostly "Hey Stoopid" the single, but the songs from Trash in particular have started getting on my nerves. Back in 1988, I thought the combination of Alice Cooper's gruff voice and the writing/production of Bon Jovi producer Desmond Child was a brilliant idea, a good contrast artistically as well as a way to bring Cooper's ideas to market. Now, it sounds like Child has tamed Alice Cooper more than Cooper managed to adrenalize Child. The backing vocals grate, the drums reverberate to simulate power rather than projecting it, and the songs just plod along. Listening to the album on headphones is even more uncomfortable - Steven Thompson and Michael Barbiero's mix sounds anemic and unassured when listened to that closely. I am sure the album was exactly what Cooper needed and intended, and the formula worked as it was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. But to say it has aged poorly is putting it mildly. It's not so much cheese as sludge. I do like the guitar playing on this record, when it's audible, so it's not a complete loss. Those arpeggios in "Poison" never get old.
Hey Stoopid is a big improvement. The sound is leaner, with the backing vocals in particular taking a step back, and the guest appearances on the opening title track by Slash and Ozzy Osbourne manage to catch my attention every time, and while nothing else on the album is quite as good, the songwriting, including the songs co-written by Child, is more varied and interesting. There are nice details in the intros and at the ends of the songs that reward listening on headphones, and I loved that moment when my oldest stepson walked by just as "Wind-Up-Toy" ended. "That is WRONG!" he said, clearly spooked. And it is. On the downside, there's a little too much reliance on epic ballads, particularly "Might As Well Be On Mars", which seems to go on forever, but I do like this one a whole lot better. Still, it's not much to get passionate about, which is unfortunate for the type of review I want to learn to write. Maybe it's simply not a good idea to buy records you expect will be cheesy, because you may end up being right?
The Last Temptation also has the nice productional touches, decent songs, a guest appearance by Chris Cornell and slightly more time for ballads than it should have. It's a little closer to the sort of album Bob Ezrin would produce than to a real hard rock record, but that's not a bad thing. It lacks stand-out tracks but hangs together well and is easily the least cheesy one of the three albums. It's nice. Just right now, I don't want to hear any more Alice Cooper. Three albums in a row really is more than I can handle.

Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant
2008, purchased in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

So let's talk about Fleet Foxes instead! I first heard them in 2008 when my then driving instructor, of all people, played them in his car. He thought they sounded like the Byrds, I thought they sounded like Fairport Convention. I loved them right away. I bought their debut album on iTunes, loved it some more, but did not investigate them any further. The five-song EP Sun Giant was more or less contemporaneous with the debut album; Wikipedia says it was even recorded before the debut album. I like it every bit as much, but both records do have the same problem: the songs are very nice and pleasant to listen to, but don't really stick in my head afterwards. In this case, I don't think this is such a bad thing; I get enough of a kick out of the shimmering, stately, post-folk-rock sound they make not to mind that these songs are for living in for as long as they last, rather than for recalling afterwards. Both Fleet Foxes records remind me of the air vibrating off a hot pavement on a warm summer's day. Even without memorable songwriting, they have quite enough to offer.

CDs that are going, part one

March 15th, 2010 by Reinder

I'm just going to go ahead and get started on posting the list of CDs I want to get rid of. As usual, they are free to anyone local to Groningen, and can be had for the cost of postage outside my immediate bicycling range. First come, first served, except for large batches sent overseas. CDs will be listed in alphabetical order. Most items are CDs I have multiple copies of, no longer like, only like for one or two songs or discovered after buying that they were in fact real stinkers. I'll mark out the real stinkers just as a warning, but we all now that one person's stinker is another's lost gem. There will be some rarities as we get through the list.

Ian Anderson, Divinities: Twelve Dances With God. Jethro Tull's front man's solo instrumental album from 1995 taking a New Age turn. I actually like this album a lot despite the overuse of synthesizers to represent orchestral parts, but my fiancee also has a copy so this one goes out.

Ben Folds Five, Naked Baby Pictures. I heard some of the songs at my brother's one day and then a few years later found the CD cheap at a store. Only listened to it a few times because by then whatever apppeal it had, had faded for me.

Blackmore's Night, Shadow of the Moon. On this record, Ritchie Blackmore is fully engaged and focused on his playing for the first time since the Deep Purple reunion record Perfect Strangers, arguably for the first time since the Rainboy record Rising. His playing is precise and inspired. Unfortunately what all this great playing is in the service of, is very thin gruel indeed. The songs are mostly watered-down renaissance fair music with dippy lyrics. The instrumentals do work well, though and the poppy "Writing on the Wall" shows how they could have gone in another direction and made that work.

David Bowie, Hours. A good record, but not one I need in my life right now.

Black Sabbath, The Best of Black Sabbath. Compilation covering the albums up to 1983's Born Again. The Paranoid album is included in full.

Christine Collister, The Dark Gift of Time. Collister is a fine singer/songwriter but the album as a whole never clicked for me.

Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me. Ditto; A Worm's Life, the one where they started falling apart.

Deep Purple, On Tour MCMXCIII. Quadruple disk set of the concerts that the live album Come Hell Or High Water was culled from, remixed to sound more like a bootleg and released a decade later. This is one of the releases that the band demanded be withdrawn, and with good reason. For completists only. In The Absense of Pink, a messy double CD release of the group's only UK performance during the Perfect Strangers tour in 1985. Not their finest musical moment. Also, I can't guarantee that this one is playable as it's Connoisseur Connections releases at the time were often affected by CD rot.

Sandy Denny and Friends, Gold Dust (The Final Concert). Sandy Denny has become one of my favorite singers over the years, but by the time of this gig, she was in deep decline. In addition, the original tapes were damaged and the parts on these were re-recorded by musicians who were not part of the original concert, making this a bit of a curiosity rather than a true representation of the concert.

Marlene Dietrich, Falling in Love Again. A Naxos collection of Dietrich's singles from 1930 to 1949, bought as part of the documentation process for a White House in Orbit storyline.
Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle. I liked this a lot back in 1998. Don't care much for it now.

Fairport Convention, AT2/The Boot (reunion concerts from 1982 and 1983, an official release but of bootleg quality), From Cropredy to Portmeirion (live album recorded in 1990), The Cropredy Box (Annual Reunion Concert from 1997, their 30th anniversary. I know people who consider this an essential release but I'm not one of them.), House Full (improved reissue of a live concert from 1970, since then reissued again in yet another version with better sound), The Five Seasons (studio album from 1990), The History of Fairport Convention (Compilation originally from 1972), Live Convention (1973 live album. The unremastered edition from 1990 is the one I'm giving away). Meet on the Ledge (Compilation of remastered songs released in 1999), Moat on the Ledge (Live album recorded in 1981), Red and Gold (studio album from 1988), The 25th Anniversary Concert (Live album from 1992)

Finntroll, Visor om Slutet. "Acoustic" album by the seminal Troll Metal group. Didn't really work.

Fleetwood Mac, Tango in the Night, Say You Will. Tango is pretty good but I'm fed up with that pop sound now.

Fotheringay, s.t. Nothing wrong with this one, just not my favorite Sandy Denny recording.

The Gathering, Mandylion, Strange Machines (single). I liked this a lot back in 1996. Don't care for it anymore now.

Ian Gillan, What I Did On My Vacation Compilation of his Ian Gillan Band and Gillan periods. Good stuff but I know all of it by heart by now.

Hayseed Dixie, Let There Be Rockgrass. HD are a good parody group but what they aren't is a good bluegrass band, and as a result this record has long worn out its welcome for me.

Roy Harper, Born in Captivity/Work Of Heart, In Between Every Line, Valentine. Some lesser records from the work of a great but very uneven singer/songwriter.

A standard procedure for digitizing LP’s.

October 4th, 2009 by Reinder

I'm really happy with my USB preamp for digitizing vinyl records and kinda wish I'd bought it years earlier. It'd have saved me a lot of money in CD remasters and other forms of buying-the-same-damned-record-again. What it allows me to do is remaster the records myself according to my own requirements. I find that I can get a very clean, dynamic sound out of most records I own, without having to worry about the digitized end product being clipped or overcompressed due to the Loudness war - even though I do normalize them to be pretty loud.

And I'm also finding that, because my records are for the most part very clean, it's dead easy. Here are the steps I take to digitize an LP side. These steps assume you have Audacity and a reasonably clean, modern lawnplayer:

Start Audacity with the USB preamp hooked up (doh) and the correct preferences set.
Put record on turntable and start. If necessary, clean record with antistatic brush.
Hit record button on Audacity. Drop needle.
Wait 20 or so minutes, listening to the record to make mental notes of bad clicks or other rough spots.
When the needle lifts, stop recording.
Using the visual representation on screen, delete the bits before the needle drop and the bits after it is raised. Keep some of the "silent" parts before and after the end of the music.
Save file with the naming/folder sorting scheme of your choice. I sort by artist and album but give the actual files basic names such as "Side A" or "Side B".
In the main menu for Audacity, go to Analyses menu and select Silence Finder. Accept the default settings and hit OK. A label track will appear marking silences of a second or longer with an "S". Usually, the mark appears right where the next track begins. Go through the markings, checking them as necessary and editing them so they show the names of the songs.

While doing this, if you know any spots where there are major clicks, or you spot them as you go along, mark them on the label track as well, so you can cut them later.

In the main menu under File, go to Open Metadata Editor. Fill in the Artist name, album name, year and genre, but nothing else, and hit OK.

These steps should give you a raw recording with everything properly labeled. The reason I do the labeling first is because I don't want to endlessly repeat listening to the album. I also don't like cutting the album into separate songs until the final stage. But if you want to do that, that's fine. The next few steps affect what is actually in the recording. Because Audacity does not support non-destructive edits, now would be a good time to save.

Next up, I usually normalize. You don't have to do that, but I want the tracks to hold their own against the tracks I already have in iTunes. "Loud" tracks get normalized all the way to 0 dB - after which I check for clipping. "Softer" tracks get normalised to -0.5 dB, the default value.

Then, go back to the clicks you've marked, zoom in on them until you can see their own wave form. Select it and delete it - it is usually just a few thousandths of a second, and no musical information is preserved in a major click, so no one will notice it. It pays to use your eyes - select so that the waveform you get after deletion looks uninterrupted.

Next, select some of the silent bits from the beginning or end of the record and go to the Effects Menu -> Remove Noise. In the window that opens, hit Create Noise Profile. Next, select the entire recording, go to Effects Menu -> Remove Noise again and start experimenting. You may want to try with the default values first, but I think that removes too much noise at the expense of the overall dynamics of the recording - after all, it uses an algorithm to guess at what is and what isn't noise, and sometimes gets it wrong. I usually end up taking out 10 dB or less - especially if for some reason I haven't been able to normalize all the way up to 0 dB. You're going to have to use a lot of trial and error here, and this is where you're most likely to get it wrong and have to redo the work. When in doubt, skip the step entirely and live with the noise floor.

Once you're satisfied, select individual songs using the markings you made earlier, and export to the format of your choice using File -> Export Selection. You'll be prompted again with the metadata editor window, and this is where you enter the track name, number and the year if it's not the same year as the other recordings on the album. Don't use Export! It will export the entire LP as one track.

After that is done, I usually close without saving so I keep the unedited music in case I'm unhappy with the results later. This sometimes happens, but by this time I usually have a recording that is clean and loud without being clipped or smooshed. And because the normalization and noise reducing steps are really macro steps that don't require close interaction with the recording, I can reproduce them easily.

This is my approach; there are others and I may change mine as I learn more. If you like separating the songs out early, you can do so. Noise removal is more important if you use headphones a lot; I find the existing noise levels to be less of a problem on speakers. Because I expect to use headphones more in the future, I am hedging my bets here.

On A/D conversion, advice and the weakest link in the chain

September 29th, 2009 by Reinder

Reader Branko asked me privately what brand/type of USB preamp I'd bought, because he too wants to digitise his vinyl record collection. I'm really the wrong person to ask, because the entire comparison shopping process for me was to go to Okaphone, a local electronics store catering to DJ's, and ask for the recommendation of the guy behind the counter. He told me they had two models in store, they were both the same price, and people had the best experiences with the one from JB Systems, so I bought that and got to work.

It didn't make sense for me to put in more effort, because
a) I'll be leaving the country again in three weeks and don't have time for agonising over specifications and price/quality ratios (beyond what's obviously sensible) if I'm to get any digitizing done; and
b) The other components aren't exactly of audiophile quality. The weakest link in my audio chain is the turntable, followed by the speakers, amplifier, room acoustics and my damaged ears.
The turntable is over 30 years old, the automatic start/stop no longer works well, the platter scrapes the console deck when I place a 180 grams vinyl record on it before I let the needle drop, and it's only a matter of time before the next issue rears its ugly head. In fact, I had endless fun, for a given value of 'fun', over the weekend trying to figure out what was making it sound so fluttery all of a sudden. I bought a new, shorter belt for it, which worked well with my LPs but caused horrible machine rumble with 45s, so now I switch between the old belt and the new belt whenever I need to change the rotation speed. I get good sound out of it all but it takes a lot of work, and if I wasn't going to emigrate within a year, I'd definitely replace the turntable. Luckily, the cartridge is new so I won't have to worry about that.

The sound card on my MacBook is good, and the USB device seems to be doing a good enough job. I'm satisfied with it under the actual operating conditions I'm working in.

So my advice to Branko is not to sweat the choice of A/D converters too much but make sure your turntable is OK—is the cartridge new and of high quality? Is your drive system (belt or direct) dependable? Also, are your records clean? Mine are, but my mother's still have dust on them after repeated cleanings with different methods, and it is affecting their sound. I am pretty sure that all things being equal, those will affect your experience a lot more than doubling your expense on the A/D converter.

Groceries, 26-9-2009, plus turntable woes.

September 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Today's grocery bill: about € 13.50 - I managed to lose the receipt. The lowest figure so far and most of that was made up from coffee. Without the need to feed my coffee addiction and my preference for Fair Trade coffee which the supermarket now only sells in duopacks, the bill would have been about € 10. I do think this proves it is possible to live very cheaply indeed if you manage your pantry well; I'll be shopping the pantry all week because I want it to be empty come October 17 when I go back to the US.

Other expenses: € 7.50 for a new belt for my turntable. It was starting to get whiney from wow/flutter even though I hadn't had the old belt for very long. The turntable store gave me a noticeably shorter belt this time, suggesting that I'd try it and return it if it was too short. It fits well, plays well and has reduced the whine. I think they gave me the wrong size the last time around, because the belt I showed them then was more stretched out than we realised, and the recent use has pulled the belt I got then over the threshold where it was unable to keep the turntable going at the correct speed. I may need to redo some of my ripping projects starting with the most recent ones and going back until I'm sure everything sounds OK.

I have already decided that a large portion of my vinyl will be getting shipped to the US. It's something I don't want to sell; indeed I feel like adding to the collection now.