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  • The Leslie Model 205 and Electric Trumpet v3.5

    2016 - 01.27

    I’ve made several tweaks to my electric trumpet setup over the last few months and I’m feeling fired up about the results. Most notably, I managed to score a Leslie rotating speaker off Craigslist, which is a rightous acquisition on many levels. I’ve been at many live shows and studio sessions that used a Leslie for organ amplification and having stood next to one, I can attest that although there are many rotary emulations and good quality recordings of rotating speakers out there, there’s simply nothing like being in the room with the real thing. There’s a rich 3D quality when you hear it in person that needs to be experienced in realtime. For a long time I’ve always thought it would be so cool to have one, and now it’s sitting in my living room!!

    My Leslie is a model 205, which is a weird, obscure model. It sat on Craigslist for over a month before I showed up to buy it, probably because it’s a rotosonic model. Rotosonic means that instead of the traditional double horn on top, this model has a rotating drum with a Jensen 6×9 speaker inside of it. Since organs sort of need that screaming, bright sound that a horn gives, most keyboard players would scoff at this substitution. However the trumpet is bright and screamy enough already so the 6×9 speaker works out well for my needs.  Here’s an album of pictures I took (click the arrows to see more):

    Leslie Model 205

    The model 205 is also weird in several other ways as well. It incorporates 5 separate speakers which are independently amplified by a large tube amp and selectable with a relay box. There’s the rotating drum up top with two 6x9s inside (one on each side), another single 6×9 on the bottom inside the rotating drum which spins in the opposite direction, a stationary downward firing 15″ inside the center portion of the cabinet, and a stationary 6×9 which is mounted in one corner on the top. The top drum has a two speed motor for fast and slow rotation and the bottom drum has a fixed, fast-speed motor. The cabinet itself is also slightly unusual, with a different number of louvres than most Leslies and no split in them.

    All in all, it’s a total oddball, but one that I think I can configure nicely to fit my own preferences. When I searched for pictures of this model online I could not find any photos of it, only a single video on YouTube from a guitarist who had reconditioned one. For that reason I have posted a lot of photos here in case someone else is trying to research this obscure model.  The top drum itself is also different than the bottom drum despite the fact that they appear to hold identical 6×9 drivers.  For some reason the designers at Leslie decided the angle the top speakers downward slightly, and added that lightning shaped baffle which partially covers them.  Why?  It just is.  Roll with it.

    Getting this Leslie is a major coup for my little home recording operation, and also for the realtime enjoyment of the sounds as they’re being created. It’s gotten me thinking about the major shifts I’ve gone through in the evolution of my electric setup into what it is now. This feels like the beginning of a new era for me. Looking back, I think I could group my setup into three distinct phases:

    Version 1 (The Muse Cafe Dawning):
    Yamaha Silent Brass as pickup, softshell pedal case on the floor, amplified by a Mesa Boogie wicker-faced guitar amp

    Version 2 (The Crystal Gravy Setup):
    Audio Technica wireless mic as pickup with feedback suppressor and SWR bass amp for amplification with pedals in a hardshell case on top of a keyboard stand

    Version 3 (100% Juice Style):
    Barcus Berry brass transducer as pickup, custom wooden pedalboard on top of keyboard stand, SWR bass amp, DI input box for recording pedalboard (later a Behringer mixer), shure SM57 on straight stand for acoustic sound

    Version 3.5 (The Acropolis Refinements):
    Leslie rotating speaker, PedalGenie rental pedals adding variety, powered Mackie mixer for recording pedalboard, Sennheiser E609 Silver on boom stand for acoustic sound

    Anyhow, I’m very excited about this baby.  You can hear it on this recent recording which I uploaded to my YouTube channel.  It’s being used by the organ in that recording, which is the traditional, easily identifiable way to hear it.  Note that the keyboard is not adding its own leslie effect, so the warbling and the tremolo you hear on the organ is all due to this speaker.  Man this thing is neat!  I’ll have some trumpet recordings with it in the near future…

    J-Sub mk.III build progress

    2016 - 01.21

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #1Somehow, I’m not sure how, it has taken me this long to report the news that I am building a giant subwoofer.  I ordered the drivers all the way back in September and now I’m excited to finally be making some real progress on the J-Sub mk.III. Although this is the third subwoofer I’ve built, this is the first one that I get to keep, which makes it especially exciting. This time around I tried a few different things on the enclosure and overall I’m feeling very pleased with the results.  First off, a few specs: The amp is 300W, class A/B which means it has a very classy THD of merely 0.08% which is unusually great for a sub amp (Keiga KG5230 Subwoofer Amplifier). I elected to mount it on the side of the box so that it’d be easy to reach in case I want to fiddle with the controls. The driver (SB34NRX75-6 datasheet) is a 12″ SB Acoustics, one of the few available which is intended for a sealed box (SB Acoustics SB34NRX75­6 12” Woofer). I took this approach because my goal here is accuracy and tightness, not loudness or low frequency extension. I’ve had subs before that went loud and low, but I’ve never had one that was super clean and punchy so I decided that’s what I wanted. This makes sense given that I’ll be using it to help master recordings. And there’s also the fact that super low frequencies are incredibly good at punching through any wall imaginable, which means I’d be wary of letting her rip. In college I built my roommate a passive/active sub with Peerless XLS (extra long excursion) drivers and 500W behind it. Our room was on the east side, 1st floor but you could hear that sub on the 4th floor west side… in a concrete cinder block building! That’s just too much.

    Sealed boxes always demand a larger size than a ported box. My enclosure is four cubic feet, which is very big in person. I knew there would be a side wide enough to accomodate my 12″ driver, so I elected to proportion the internal dimensions according to the golden ratio–the height is 1.62 times the width, which is 1.62 times the depth of the inside volume. This ratio was famously used in the Egyptian pyramids, The Parthenon, works of art by Da Vinci and Dali, and also naturally occurs in both plants and animals. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the golden ratio and how it pops up so many places

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #2For the enclosure I used 3/4″ MDF, which is the ideal material for speakerboxes thanks to its acoustically-dead properties. MDF is basically wood ground up into fine pulp then compressed back into a solid piece with high density and perfect uniformity. The downside is that it’s very heavy and it generates clouds of superfine dust whenever you cut it, which is very annoying and unhealthy to work around. I did all my cutting outdoors with a fan blowing the dust away from me. Even then I held my breath while cutting and walked away before inhaling again. That dust is no joke.

    The MDF was then covered with 1/4″ oak veneered plywood. Since it’s plywood, it has a fantastic looking outer layer and then some unknown garbage wood sandwiched inside it. Initially I had felt pessimistic that I would be able to get good-looking edges since I thought using my high speed router would cause chipping and rip-outs on the thin oak layer. Fortunately I was completely wrong about this! Using a scrap piece as a test, I found out that my laminate cutting bit created perfectly flush edges with zero rips in the oak, and my 1/4″ roundover bit actually created a smooth edge with a nice grainy look. This was a very pleasant surprise. My one flaw was not having the 40+ inch clamps it would have taken to clamp the top and bottom laminate pieces. Because I didn’t have enough pressure on them, there is a small 32nd to 16th inch gap at the center where the sides meet the top/bottom. I can live with this.

    A few coats of stain and a few coats of poly and she’ll be ready for action!

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #3

    2015 In Funk: Going Out on the High Notes

    2015 - 12.14

    In the words of Frank Sinatra, “It Was A Very Good Year” for funky music, 2015. The following is a long-form discussion and dissection of the many pieces of musical news in my world; it’s big but hang with me there’s lots of substance to talk about.  We got new albums from Lettuce and The New Mastersounds, and a new festival right in my backyard brought some mean groove to the Texas countryside. And.  I made some pretty fresh music myself, if I don’t say so.  The Funk is alive and thriving although I’m pretty sad to chronicle it: Bear Creek was cancelled this year.

    2015 In Funk Pt 1: The October Bear Creek that wasn’t

    This year the Legendary Bear Creek Music Festival which I’ve written about time and time and time again was initially rescheduled about a month earlier than its traditional mid-November timeframe, which was a tantalizing proposition for literally hotter dancing and brand-new-good-old times, however due to undisclosed complexities, the organizers cancelled the fest this year which was… devastating news. According to at least one trusted source the odds are not favorable that it will return (although never say never). This is pretty sad news for the feet and the spirit….

    Screenshot_2015-12-07-15-13-55About one year and some weeks ago my friend Bill and I were taking a breather after a long day of soaking in the incredible vibes at Bear Creek 2014. We were sitting by the edge of a pond to let our feet rest and I said to him, ‘you know some day they’re going to stop putting this fest on, for one reason or another, and we’re going to look back at this time period like it was some kind of utopia or a golden age for music like this.’ Little did I know at the time how prescient of a thought it was. I wish it hadn’t been.

    Me, I hate to wear bracelets so as soon as I got home from the fest I clipped mine off and kept it to put inside the frame with the festival poster I had picked up. But Bill loves to keep his on as a daily reminder of the fest. When I heard the news I texted him right away and you can see his reply in the screenshot here. When I talked to him on the phone about it later he said “Man, I wore that thing to work every single day… every business meeting.”

    It’s a testament to the power of what happens when everything goes right at a fest and some incredible magic is created which can only happen there, away from the business meetings and the grind of existence. Something ‘big’ enough that it becomes part of who you are. Bear Creek inspired me to push off in certain direction with my own music for sure. With the concentrated dose of pure funk, jazz, and soul I think that fest tipped my scales toward a certain sensibility much more than an eclectic fest could have done, and drastically more than a series of small concerts peppered througout the year in a drip-feed. If you love this kind of music, if it speaks to a certain thing inside your being, Bear Creek was a lightning strike to the soul.

    These days there are tons of great fests out there, and plenty of them offer what feels like an escape to some alternate reality, or at least a vacation from your typical reality. But Bear Creek was that and something more. It was a meeting of the minds. A congress of groove-seekers unmatched. It was a place where the headlining acts were Lettuce and The New Mastersounds, a place where heroes of the genre got to really get up there and rip it at 200%, boosted beyond the normally possible range by the energy of this crowd. Everyone could feel that vibe.

    It was a place where, when the final act had finished, the crowd chanted for an encore by singing a looping rendition of the chorus from the Parliment anthem “We Want The Funk”. Replete with the falsetto “ooohhh weeeeeee” it went on until the musicians came back out and fired up the jams once more. We Want The Funk.

    Word, Bear Creek. Word.

    2015 In Funk Pt 2: Top Tier Inspiration on the Stereo

    Within the last month, two superb albums have dropped and I feel it’s worth discussing them together. 1. Made For Pleasure by The New Mastersounds and 2. Crush by Lettuce. These two bands are sort of like two sides of the same coin. They both are well-established and highly-talented groups of musicians making original funk music although they’ve each got a different philosophy on how. Lettuce is pushing further into their own direction with a huge number of members in the band, lots of effects, a clean/modern mastering sound, and complex song structures. Their identity is still evolving. The New Mastersounds are rooted in their quartet playing tunes of simple structure, mastered with a vintage/analog sensibility; all of which have been refined to such a beautiful richness that there’s really no need to start flipping knobs around. NMS are pretty well “dialed-in” as far as their identity and what you might expect from them, but they do manage to toss in plenty of treats for their returning listeners.

    The New Mastersounds - Made For Pleasure vinyl LP

    A common theme between these two albums is the studio-implementation of things they’ve been doing live for quite some time now. In the case of the New Mastersounds, I’ve seen them perform reggae grooves as far back as 2008 but until “Made For Pleasure” there’s never been a proper reggae tune on one of their albums. Adding to the novelty is the fact that it’s a cover of the Iggy Azalea tune “Fancy” transplated into a reggae groove with the lyrics “I’m so Irie”. That’s perfect.

    A very welcome additional treat for this listener is the presence of the peppy and crisp West Coast Horns on four of the album’s eleven tracks. In particular their trumpeter adds a hot sizzle to the action which I really love. In the words of my friend Vince “try as I might, I just can’t get into Mastersounds with vocals” and I will echo that sentiment. The tunes with Charly Lowry, on their own, are a great soul tribute that would feel good on an album of their own. But sandwich them between the high-level instrumentals at which the Mastersounds are so adept and cranking out, the the vocal-driven tunes feel like a sideshow, a distraction.

    “Pho Baby” centers around a chord progression style which feels abnormal for the Mastersounds, but in a pleasing way. I imagine that tune would feel great toward the end of a festival set. “Let’s Do Another” gives you a dose of vibraphone, tabla, and horn section on top of the mastersounds which was a wholly unexpected combo that continues to please on repeated listens. But my favorite track is definitely “Cigar Time” which is a no-frills tune that simply delivers what the mastersounds do best: a steady groove with that magic ratio of funk and jazz behind some superb-sounding guitar and organ solos that compel you to nod your head. How these guys keep producing such quality material album after album is a marvel to me, one I plan to continue studying indefinitely.

    Lettuce Crush Album CoverAnd then there’s Crush, the 4th album from Lettuce. This record’s got a lot of meat and a lot of attitude, as you’d expect from the boys. I gotta admit, I’m not sure I’m totally a fan of how they mastered this album. Compared to other offerings in the genre (as described above!) this album sounds thin and digital to my ears. In particular the obvious noise gate on the beginning of “Phyllis” is a confounding production fail, if you ask me. One thing I AM totally (read: predictably) loving about this new Lettuce album though, is the amount of effects on the horns! In track 2 “Get Greasy” Ryan Zoidis has a killer solo using what sounds like envelope and a synth pedal. it’s making me want to dig into my own synth pedal capabilties…

    This is also the first studio album with trumpeter Eric Benny Bloom and he fills the large shoes of Rashawn Ross nicely I think. Rashawn’s high range is… formidible. Bloom takes the “screamer” dial to about 80% of where Rashawn had it, but he makes up for the rest with his much more thoughtful solo capability. The sheer firepower of his successor was always a thrill but given a choice I’d take Eric. Plus, this guy is into effects and I have… let’s say “more than just a casual penchant” for that. In 2014 he was present for Bear Creek and I got a taste of his approach.

    That year’s fest was also the moment in which the stylistic shift on this record was first displayed. There were a lot more spaceout/dubout moments than ever before, which I think is a fantastic counterpoint to the “Rage” funk. In so many different ways, musicians of all genres try to take their listeners up to a high place then give them some breathing room to cool off. That’s the essence of dynamics since staying planted at 100% all the time turns into a grind.

    I’m glad to see Lettuce taking this new direction. My friend Bill had a more tepid reception to the change and prefers the tone set on their previous record Fly. I’d argue there are still plenty of in-yo-face numbers here, in particular “The Lobbyist” stands tall for me, and “The Force” is a spectacularly dramatic opening theme. I’d love to see them open a show with that, and maybe reprise it once before the end.

    2015 In Funk Pt 3: Art Outside

    Jammin under the Oaks @ Art Outside 2015

    As chronicled previously, the incredible Bear Creek music fest was cancelled this year, leaving an opening for some other musical experience to fill. Fortunately for our heroes, right here in our Texan backyard there was a gathering called Art Outside which had a very enticing lineup of both funk and electronic music. I had been badgering my wife to come along with me to a music festival for a long time and the variables had lined up to persuade her to join in. Only problem was the weather. Hurricane Patricia was just making landfall in Mexico and the effects would soon be sweeping across the state, leaving just enough of a window for two glorious days before the drought-cracked soil of Rockdale TX would get all the moisture it could handle and more…

    TAUK at Art Outside 2015I opted for the 4-day pass since my favorite band, The New Mastersounds were playing that day, along with soul virtuosos The Nth Power and TAUK whom I heard for the first time at Bear Creek 2013.

    The New Mastersounds had the closing slot on Thursday night where the elite crew of 4-day warriors kicked off the festivities. Having seen them over a dozen times now, I’d say it was a lovely festival set with a great song list. Summercamp with it’s delicate and sparse breakdown flowing into a 4-on-the-floor dance groove was a favorite for me, as well as their rendition of “Hey Fela” with West African master percussionist Weedie Braimah from the Nth Power imbuing the tune with an afrobeat feel. Eddie Roberts seemed a bit reserved that night, opting for cerebral jazzy phrases and never really rocking out full-tilt the way I know he can. I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure they played a dubbed-out cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Well Dressed Man” in which Roberts actually used a delay pedal; a common piece of guitar equipment he purposely eschews.

    Having seen these fellows at their finest there was a feedback loop which never connected that night–Eddie seemed visibly annoyed at times with the lack of crowd reaction to push the band higher and likewise the crowd never really went wild because the band never really took-it-there. “Are you all still awake out there?” he asked at one point. That aside, the set delivered the goods in a mellower way for sure. I did a lot more standing and listening than dancing, but my ears were thoroughly engaged for the entirety of their set.

    The Friday itinerary was a sandwich stacked high with lots of wonderful ingredients. The Easy-Star Allstars performed their reggae cover of “Dark Side of The Moon” in its entirety along with a smattering of Micheal Jackson, Radiohead, and The Beatles. As a last-minute surprise to close the set they broke into Led Zepplin (could it be foreshadowing for their next album??) and out of nowhere 4 or 5 people in the crowd started throwing long streamer ribbons which zigzagged the audience in a web of colors. That was a very cool festival moment.

    Coming off the Easy-Star streamer surprise we caught Nightmares on Wax, who opened up with “Les Nuits” one of my all-time favorite downtempo tracks. In a live setting it felt totally different than it does on the stereo at home though! His set was surprisingly packed with soul-tunes: “Sir Duke” from Stevie Wonder, “Give The People What They Want” from the O’Jays, and a very memorable Marvin Gaye “Inner City Blues” remix. The sound was bone-jarringly loud and we kept telling ourselves we were going to move back ‘after this track ended’ but his DJ set kept it locked and there was no good time to come up for air! It feels weird to say it but even among all the other great artists, this set was my favorite moment in the fest. The buzz of the crowd, the tune selection, and the DJ mixing from NOW was on-point. The dome stage which wrapped around the audience definitely added something as well.

    Dome Stage Art Outside 2015

    Third heavy hitters on the Friday night agenda were Lettuce, touring the country to promote their aforementioned new album. The show was a fun time, I’d even say it was great, but after talking to 4 different people about it at length, the jury agrees unanimously that something was… off. First off, Eric Krasno wasn’t there. Lettuce has about all the musical firepower that you can wish for but Krasno really is a soloist of unusual caliber. His sound, soaring above the raging rhythm section and searing hornlines, is what has sent many a Lettuce jam over the top. Without him, something just feels missing. Chatting about this at a party, I later learned that Krasno is only playing certain Lettuce shows these days. That’s a pretty unfortunate changeup. But all that aside, they did play a crazy-fast version of Lettsanity, many of their older classics including Squadlive, and the new tune “Sounds Like A Party To Me” which I was feelin. Nigel Hall hooked it up there.

    Finally the last show that we stuck around for was a Bonobo DJ set. Gotta say, I liked what I heard. I’ve seen Bonobo play a live set before, with drumset, horn soloists and the whole nine yards and it had just felt… low energy. So my expectations weren’t very high. His set sort of started out with a simmering energy and gradually built up, with a lot of rich-sounding atmospheric tracks that had a steady 4-on-th-floor beneath it all. I honestly didn’t think Bonobo had what it took to keep the dancing masses moving from 2-4am, especially after a Lettuce set, but he proved otherwise.

    After Bonobo handed the turntables over to the next act we adjourned for the night, pausing to grab a slice of late night pizza on the way back to our tent, and that’s when it hit: An incredibly loud thunderclap signaled the flipping of a switch in the atmosphere above us. About five minutes after that sound a steady, strong downpour began which did not relent until perhaps two days later. By sunrise the grounds had been utterly drenched and the soil turned from cracked and hardened into a mud-pocalypse the likes of which I had never been involved with until that weekend.

    2015 In Funk Pt 4: Onward and Upward in the Living Room

    Ampex 900 Reel to Reel vintage audio

    This year has been an incredibly great period in my own musical development and productivity. It saw the creation of a new project, The Acropolis Of Soul and the conclusion–on a high note–of my long-running group 100% Juice. I’ve refined my recording and mastering techniques along the way and finally started to produce a few YouTube videos as well, something I’ve long wanted to do. I also became a member of PedalGenie.com which is an effects pedal rental service, allowing me to try out lots of new sounds. And of course, we had lots of great jams which allowed me to grow as a player. Listening back to these moments has been enjoyable on a visceral level but also deeply enriching on a cerebral level as well.

    I was sad to hear the news that Bob Saviano, the drummer for 100% Juice had decided to move to Colorado, but the silver lining was that it gave us a push to polish up our songs and have that two-day recording session we’d been talking about for a long time. 6/27 and 6/28 produced several top-tier improvised jams and a few “best-ever” takes on songs we’ve been playing for a long time. The fact that these would be our last sessions also gave me a blank check to spend as much time as I wanted on post-production to clean everything to a spotless finish and add all the overdubs I might want. Adding overdubs–that is also another thing I had always wanted to do but didn’t begin until 2015!

    In retrospect, 100% Juice has been one of the best musical projects I’ve ever had in terms of personal development into the kind of music I want to make. I’m feel very proud of the sounds that came out of it, even though I can still nitpick my own playing to death. We did some video recording on 6/28 and there are still several tracks remaining to publish from that day. As of this writing, two tracks are completed and published to YouTube. The video below is our take on the Lettuce tune “Blast Off”. For this video I took our multitrack recording and bounced it to quarter inch tape on reel to reel to get that analog warmth. Again, another thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Hear it for yourself:

    My musical partner in crime, Vince Chihak has joined up with our new group The Acropolis of Soul, which first met in February of this year. Over the year we’ve had 11 sessions and there’s been some killer stuff to come out of those. Our soundcloud page is accessible by clicking on the cassette below:

    The Acropolis of Soul

    Schedules have been a challenge with this group since everyone has busy lives. The Acropolis will probably never become as prolific as 100% Juice was, but the flip side to that coin is that it gives me more time to work on the production for each session and add overdubs more often. To reflect all these nice things that have been happening I made a few updates on the music section of Microcosmologist which now has links to my soundcloud and YouTube pages as well as links to download some of my favorite recordings under the Trumpet section.

    One never knows what the future may hold but right now at the end of the year, looking back, I’m feeling fantastic about everything that’s transpired musically, thankful for my excellent counterparts, and couldn’t be more jazzed to see where the adventures take us next… on to 2016.

    The Puget Sound Model Railroad in photos

    2015 - 12.04

    Some major model railroad inspiration here from the Puget Sound Model Railroad at the Washington State History Museum, in Tacoma, WA.  I took these photos when I was visiting Seattle this summer.  Unfortunately the glass keeps you pretty far back from a lot of the cool action but I think I got some decent shots.  For a guy who models the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific, this layout is like a fantasyland.  Check it out:

    Puget Sound Model Railroad

    Vinyl Review : Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School

    2015 - 11.21

    The first time I heard Neon Indian was in 2005 when I heard “Terminally Chill” while shopping at American Apparel and had to Shazaam this awesome retrowave tune that was undeniably hip. The rest of their first album “Psychic Chasms” was right up there on the same level. Lo-fi production jam packed with weird sounds, crude drum machine, and old-school synths. Ten years later, they are releasing their 3rd album “VEGA INTL. Night School” and after listening to it many times now my geekout level has reached critical mass.

    The first thing I’ll say about this album is that it genuinely surprised me. Neon Indian’s previous album Era Extrana was, let’s be honest, a complete flop for me. It had zero tracks on it with staying power. I listened to it several times when I got it, wanting to like it, hoping that it would ramp up in appeal but it flat-lined for me and never jumped up. I have not gone back to it since.

    There’s tons and tons of artists out there in all mediums who create something magnificent, something worthy of attention, but then seem unable to ever reignite that level of greatness again. Coming away from Era Extrana, I was convinced that this was Neon Indian. Something lined up for them during the creation of their first album Psychic Chasms and it was magic. All the right elements came together and awesome, memorable music resulted. But in their sophmore effort it was obvious that whatever had ‘clicked’ that first time around simply wasn’t there anymore. I thought hmph, so that’s it then. My expectation was set: LOW.

    So it’s super, super inspiring as an artist to hear what happened on “Night School.” After listening to it many times over, I feel that it’s an even stronger album than Psychic Chasms. It’s still brand new so that’s a bold statement because music needs to age a little bit for the proper context to settle in. Time tells you how often you come back to it, how much lasting appeal it has in the panoloply of everything you might want to put on. Most of the time good music occurs as a slow realization along the lines of “hey, this is pretty good > ooh, actually this is really good > oh man, this is a cut above > yeah this is classic material” Night School is the rare exception where the very first time I listened I knew immediately, yep, this is fire.

    Neon Indian: Vega Intl. Night School

    What separates an “album” from a playlist of songs is cohesiveness. To me an album is a set of songs that creates a mood or takes you on a journey, something that’s complete and self-contained. The mark of a good album is when you create a playlist of random stuff and you insert one of these tracks, hearing it makes you want to hear the next song from the original album instead of whatever’s next on your playlist. With Night School, Neon Indian has achieved that style of continuity.

    Okay okay, what makes it so good?! Let’s break it down:

    Outrageous palette: the overarching theme is a cheezy late 80s/early 90s shopping mall pop sound deconstructed and rebuilt with modern sensibilities. That’s the core. But a better question is, what doesn’t this album have? I hear hand percussion of many varieties, acoustic guitar, japanese flute, old-school rebirth synthesizer, a sax solo, old TV samples, female backing vocals, detroit techno, chiptunes arppegios, and all manner of odd-sounding effects/processing. There’s a little bit of eastern European flavor going on in there, and definitely homage to Depeche Mode style guitar. The whole thing is very electronic and processed but they manage to throw in something organic a lot of the time too. There’s simply an absurd amount of different sounds to chew on.

    Catchy hooks: the main chorus on nearly all tunes is very hummable. There’s a lot of anthems built around simplistic (read: accessible) phrases and Neon Indian dishes that out with proper buildup around them. Often they present a simple melody which repeats again with an extension to the phrase the second time. It’s a tested forumla that works.

    Songwriting: The album has a 1 minute intro track. There’s pre-choruses. Breakdowns. Bridges with chord changes. Unexpected basslines. Nothing gets me quite like an unexpected bassline does. After listening to music your whole life you get a pretty good idea of where a particular bassline should lead. When it doesn’t do what your ear expects it to do, that kills me in the best way. If you were to try to cover any of these songs, you’d have to sit down and write out all the sections that are going on.

    Production value: There’s a million little touches. Every tune is jam packed with little nooks and crannies. Add a funky synth here that only comes in once and never again. Okay, this tune gets a weird telephone-sounding breakdown at the end. This one has a free-form cadenza intro. There’s a six bar interlude here. The big single from the album gets a seperate part II reprise track that takes it to a mean big-room dancefloor feel. And the whole thing is caked in delay/reverb fader-riding that shoves all the right nuances in your face.

    So yeah, I’m blown away by this one. It’s a masterpiece of nostalgia-mining, pop-glitz, thoughtful production, and selective exploitation of dated sound palettes. I still say Beck is the king of taking elements that would sound stupid by themselves and mashing them into a bafflingly awesome whole but damn, Neon Indian has shown up to the record store with a gauntlet to throw. Night School is an album with something to prove and it does it relentlessly. As a musician myself I am inspired by just how severly this blows their previous record straight out of the water. Neon Indian’s style may not be for everyone but wow, what a record.

    100% Juice video: Hey Fela! (New Mastersounds cover)

    2015 - 10.16

    A bit of news: Bob Saviano, my drummer of choice for the past 3 years has moved out of Houston. However the silver lining there is our band 100% Juice finally did a double-session weekend, which is something we’d meant to do for a very long time. The first day yielded some stellar group improvisations and the second day was mostly video-recorded. I have been chipping away at those sessions with a snail’s pace, so there is still more to come, but hey, there is one completed video which I’ll post here.

    Here is 100% Juice covering The New Mastersounds song “Hey Fela!”

    I have also been putting more of our jams onto YouTube, where they can be streamed in higher quality than Soundcloud offers. Check out this link for some listening.

     

    Planet or not…

    2015 - 09.09

    So obviously I haven’t written much about space exploration in quite a while. Some of the projects I wrote about long ago have pretty much fulfilled their missions; the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is now thousands and thousands of exoplanets deep, and the ice-cube neutrino observatory has found its high energy neutrinos. I haven’t lost my love for all-things space related, but I have had somewhat of a philosophical shift on this site that what I write about here is more focused on either my own creations or journaling for myself, rather than reporting the current news.

    But there was one thing that happened recently which was pretty amazing: the New Horizons space probe finally reached Pluto! (talk about earning that “tremendous voyages” tag) Dwarf planet or not, this is a new achievement in the exploration of distant worlds. This mission’s a high water mark in terms of pure kilometers that, let’s be real, won’t be exceeded in my lifetime. And that’s awesome to think about. Seldom do we get to watch something happen and know within that very moment that history is being witnessed… but this is one of those times. These pictures are a kind of rebuttal against that refrain “born too late to explore the Earth, born too early to explore the galaxy.” Well here’s a new part of your galaxy to admire:

    2015-8-12-15-PlutoEnhancedColor

    New Jams

    2015 - 09.03

    I’m tossing up a quick post here with links to two soundcloud pages for my musical projects:

    The Acropolis of Soul

    100% Juice

    Check ’em out!

    PS3 Round II

    2015 - 07.31

    So for many years now I’ve been playing games on my Playstation 3. It’s an original 60gig “fat” system, the very first model introduced. Sadly two months ago it gave me the so-called “yellow light of death” which means that the main BGA inside it has cracked solder balls from a slow temperature stress over time. I was able to use the so-called hairdryer-trick (which is exactly as scientific as it sounds) to briefly revive it; enough time to copy over my save games, eject a disc, and get a little nostalgic.

    The oldest save file? Ratchet and Clank from 4/17/07. Wow. Eight years. Has it really been that long? Though it sounds odd to say it, rewinding through the save files and being reminded of all the games I had played over the years was quite a trip down memory lane. Certain games I maybe only played for a short time, and carried a strong association with whatever else was going on in my life at the time. It’s a bit like hearing a song you haven’t heard in forever… something that reminds you of a smell or a place you once lived, or the way life used to feel back then.

    It’s sort of funny, the way your mind forms these connections and loops nostalgia through it. I also feel some connection to the system itself because in my last job I had taken a business trip to Japan and the two weeks I spent there were visiting Sony and Toshiba, working for the manufacturing plants that were building the Cell processor (CPU) and the main graphics chip for the PS3. And this was during the early days of their manufacturing as well, so it would have been these “fat” systems they were struggling to build, with all the growing pains of scaling production up on a system destined to sell millions of units.

    But all things have a season and the fat PS3 has served me well. When it went down, I decided to go on a videogame sabbadical until after the MRHA conference, since I knew I wanted to focus my free time on some model RR work for their model contest. Now that this is complete, I went out to buy a new PS3, only to discover that new units are no longer being produced. I settled on a used “SuperSlim” unit–the 3rd generation of the console.

    My videogame pace seems to grow slower and slower with each passing year but I gotta admit it was very exciting to get a new (to me) console! I’m sure it will provide many nights of enjoyment……

    Major Trackwork: Complete.

    2015 - 07.28

    IMG_9316 BLOGSIZE

    IMG_9319 BLOGSIZEOver the long 4th of July weekend I took the two afternoons of free-time needed to do something I’ve been procrastinating on for a long time now: complete the short stretch of track needed to join the upper and lower decks of my railroad! This required the installation of three switches, five transitions from code 83 to 100, three rerailers and assorted wiring/soldering. So it was somewhat of a busy little stretch in terms of trackwork and attention needed for the actual construction even though it is not very long in size.

    As part of this construction project, I also completed what I’ve been calling my level 1.5 staging tracks. These are three very long, single-ended staging tracks that can accommodate a huge train, like a 12 car North Coast Limited. Since the passenger cars and engines that compose a big train like that will draw a lot of current from my DCC system, I also installed a light switch under the layout that can switch power to that section of track on or off.

    My layout wiring has been largely improvised with little to no foresight or planning which has resulted in an increasingly gory spectacle of wire madness for those brave enough to venture beneath the layout. There’s one particularly bad spot where several levels of track wiring all join together, combined with an autoreverser and a circuit breaker. It’s pretty much disgusting but that’s what I get for a lack of wiring planning.

    When I designed my layout I knew that if I had an upper level and a lower level there were only 2 choices of how to join them: a helix or a long steep grade. I’ve never been a fan of the helix since they take up a huge amount of space and can’t be included into the layout as anything remotely realistic. So a steep grade it is. It turned out mostly around 3% although it does approach just under 5% at the steepest point, which is somewhat beastly of a slope.

    In real life when trains encountered an unavoidable mountainous grade, the train crew would split the train in two and take it up the hill in smaller pieces in a move called “doubling the hill”. So this same behavior is required on my layout since the engines won’t be able to pull a huge train up this grade. After performing this maneuver a few times over the weekend, I think I actually enjoy this operational requirement. It adds a bit of challenge and reward for sending trains up and down. This forces some “operation” on the layout rather than running loops, which is still the main thing I enjoy.