A blog post

New music – August 2012

Posted on the 27 July, 2012 at 6:09 pm Written by in Music

I just saw that Bob Dylan has a new album, Tempest, coming in September, and thought that this might be a nice place to sum up listening experiences the last months. Listening for good music, now as always.

Among music bought this last semester, I quite like Supersilent: 10, very experimental, great sonics.

Generally, albums bought in the last period have a bit better sound than before. LP producers seem to be advancing their act.  Even a “niche” company like Rune Grammophone in Norway, the publisher of the Supersilent LP, makes sonically good recordings. Improved sound  is noteworthy in some other European cases also, like the Nik Bartsch: Llyria LP, made in 2011 by ECM  – remarkable sound quality, even if ECM LPs have generally always sounded quite good (if a bit thin, clinical, etc).  Some of the tracks, like Exodus and Tomorrow never ends, on the Herbie Hancock: Imagine project LP were notably enjoyable also. I play some flute and guitar, and if the sound invites me to play – it is good, in my judgement. This one really does.

In 2011 I bought several “keeping up” albums by old groups and artists. The results were mixed, but often favorable, so I continued in 2012. I enjoyed, for example, the best tracks on Tom Petty: Mojo and on Robbie Robertson: How to become clairvoiant.  I also managed to get hold of a few hard to get original gems, like Donovan’s 1970 double LP, HMS Donovan (an album with some great, overlooked songs with amazing sound, even if my copy, bought from Iceland (!), is only the second issue from Dawn (the legendary company). I also enjoyed Wizz Jones’s similarly overlooked LP Right now, reissued by Speakers’ Corner (I think, on my suggestion). I also bought new groups or artists, like Field Music: Plumb (quite good) and even Adele: 21 (hmm, well). Some music I buy just to get a feeling of current changes of taste – being interested as a researcher.

As analog sound is becoming more re-accepted, some “fresh tape” albums, relatively speaking, from the 80s and 90s, are getting good new remastering. An example is Talk Talk: The Colour of Spring, 2012 edition, on EMI (EMCX 3506) – a great album, better sound than the original I had, and well worth it. Another example is  Paul Simon, Graceland – the new remaster.

Clearly there is more attention to quality in many places al0ng the chain. Among those who should be honored for this is, not least, Michael Fremer of Stereophile, who almost single-handedly started “the analog counter-revolution” back in the late 1990s.  Back in the time when CDs as “perfect sound forever” was received wisdom.

Let me tell you my own take on this.

Personally, I held on to the “digital is superior” theory for five years or so in the early 1990s. I liked data programming, which became one of my favourite hobbies, along with music. This happened after a long period of recording LPs to analogue tape, in the 1970s and 80s, with a Revox A-77 recorder, and playing some of the LPs direct on a decent but limited system.

I thought, OK, let me give digital a try. At first, I was confirmed, or so was my impression. A bit is a bit, right! It was only after a while that I really started to note the digitalization deficits. The format was so practical and inventive – I wanted it to be best. But after awhile, I realized that CD sound was not such a great improvement of LP sound, after all.

In 1997 I bought a used Lyra Clavis pickup, somewhat by coincidence, meeting a good dealer at the south coast of Norway (Vidar Sonesen/Audio Art). After that, things never became the same. I gradually became transformed back into an analog person, simply using my ears. I started upgrading my analog rig. Vinyl was clearly the best source, even if one has to live with some medium deficits, like ticks and pops, decentering, warps etc.

I was not alone. After having literally been run down in a flea market, I stopped over-eager excursions into cheap used LP bins.  Good analog costs money, yes. But it pays off. All the more reason to share information about what does sound good, and what does not, among the now-increasing analog offerings.

New LPs in 2012 – spring:

Dr John: Locked down. Quite good but too stressful – somewhat disappointing. Check out Duke Elegant instead, much more relaxed. The melodic core, harmonic logic and strictness of Ellington’s music seem to have worked exceptionally well for the doctor, on this “The duke meets the doc” album. It is a shame that it exists only on CD, not on vinyl, but the music is so good you mainly forget all that.

Bob Dylan and the Band: The Basement Tapes, in the new Mobile Fidelity (MFSL 2-382)  edition. Agree with Michael Fremer – this improves on the original.  Not a basement revolution perhaps, but enough to make re-listening more worthwhile.

On CD (I am not a vinyl fanatic); World Party: Arkeology.  Although some parts are kitch or filler material, or in a draft stage only, on the whole, this 70 song set is remarkable and well worth a listen. Wallinger is one of the overlooked entrepeneurs of pop (see earlier blog post, under Music, on this site).

I was not happy about Pink Floyd’s Wish you were here, the new remaster, and returned it. It was not quite centered, and the variation in pitch was really unforgiveable on the long beautiful opening of Shine on you crazy diamond, which for me is a major part of wanting to own this LP . Even more so because the band experiments with pitch. If the speed is not 100 percent correct,  the whole thing fails. I tried another copy, thanks to the Big Dipper shop that sells vinyl in Oslo, but that was decentered too.

Vinyl bought, but not yet listened to (phono stage on repair) – some have not yet arrived:

Doors: The Doors (first LP) and Strange Days (second LP), both on 2 x 45 rpm

Madeleine Peyroux: Bare bones

Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix

Astra: The Black Chord

Grateful Dead: Reckoning

Glenn Frey: After Hours

Little Feat: Rooster Rag

And I’ve ordered Dylan’s Tempest, of course.