Recently had a music making electronic power session with two buddies which was a combination of fun, educating, inspiring, and amusing. We worked with Propellerheads Reason 6.5 and two keyboard midi controllers, it was a nice setup for electronic composing. Below is a picture of the trio in action, overlaid with a thor synthesizer and the pattern from the tapestry on the wall (visible in the mirror); both of those were other photos I took that night. I want to get some finished audio together and post that up too. More on that later…
Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
So previously I chronicled the construction of a set of hefty bookshelf speakers I built for my brother. They’ve got a new buddy: a 12″, 500 watt subwoofer, in matching green paint! I haven’t written about the process of building this guy near as much because the cabinetry was essentially the same process: cut up MDF, router in the driver openings, glue’n’screw together, router off hard edges, silicone seal all joining surfaces on the inside, primer paint the outside, 4 coats of green paint, and then coat the whole shebang in Enviro Tex for a piano finish.
This time around I used a thicker, globbier primer called “gripper” in the hopes that it would more aggressively adhere to the MDF. When I put it on, it seemed like oh yeah, this stuff is gonna bond. But sure enough: I set the wet surface down on a few triangular wood blocks to dry, then each of them lifted off a small bit of the paint when dried. Seems like nothing can actually adhere itself to MDF, it just covers it. That’s going to be okay though, since the Enviro Tex finish is very thick and will seal any loose imperfections underneath.
This is only my second attempt at building a sub. The first one I built for a roommate in college. It used two Peerless XLS extra long excursion drivers, one active and one passive. Using a passive radiator extends the frequency response and lets you get some serious low frequency. The downside is that since the passive driver is, by definition, uncontrolled by a magnet, it’s free to vibrate however it wants. That will muddy up the sound. That sub was definitely LOUD as hell, and low too. We would bump that thing in the dorms and I’ll be damned if you couldn’t hear it on the other side of the building, 3 floors away. And we’re talking about a cinder-block building too!! So that thing was an outrageous amount of firepower for it’s size, which I would credit to the low frequency extension of the passive radiator. But it could never be described as tight, quick, responsive, or accurate.
As my second attempt, I picked out a driver that could be used in a sealed box, to go for power and accuracy in the audible range. The lowest of the lows are really cool, for sure, but subs with very low frequency output are almost impractical in a sense: that low, low range is going to penetrate ANYTHING, as the cinder block dorm proved in college. You’re going to be irritating anyone within a thousand foot radius when you rock out, no if’s about it. This time around I wanted power in the range of human hearing. Yeah, that’s still going to punch through plenty of walls, but not on the level that <30Hz will.
I went for a 12″ as a compromise between tightness/control and low frequency extension in a sealed box. The lowest audible frequency, referred to as “f3″, should be somewhere in the high 30s. The driver is a Dayton Reference Series 12″ model “RSS315HO-44″ with 4ohm impedance. It’s a dual voice coil driver, although I’ll only be powering one. The T/S parameters of this thing call for a one cubic foot sealed box for its optimum response, which is fairly small for a sub. This would be a superb driver for a car sub, where more amps would be geared toward handling that brutal 2ohm impedance you’d get by wiring the dual voice coils in parallel.
Supplying the power, we’ve got a 500 watt amp made by Yung International, with a +6dB boost at 25Hz. I went for the 6dB boosted model as opposed to the normal model, with aim of pushing the f3 out a little lower than the driver would normally achieve. Why not use that EQ to my advantage!
First impressions? Punchy-est 12″ in recent memory! It’s bass drum hits are concise. Basslines are even, with no ‘bloated’ notes that pop out louder than the rest. And the lowest audible pitch notes are there. The tune “To Feel Good” in the music section is a great test of super low bass, since we used a sine wave bassline at -1 octave to the main bassline synth you hear. That makes for some low, deep notes!
Really digging this puppy so far. Gonna be a hell of a sound system for this fall….
So I picked up one Svelte (with a capital S!) looking turntable a little while back: the Marantz 6100. It had been up on Craigslist for quite some time and I had been eyeing it up, especially since it would match my Marantz amp I like so much. Finally I pulled the trigger. Immediately when I got it home I started noticing a series of issues. This post chronicles all that I’ve done to upgrade and fix it, for anyone who should want to do the same to theirs.
First thing wrong with it was that only one channel worked. Yikes, that’s a showstopper! Step one was to diagnose: swap the L/R channels as they were connected to my amp to make sure it was the turntable at fault and not the amplifier. It was the turntable. I took the bottom off and used the “beep”/continuity test setting on my multimeter to see where the signal was getting lost. Note that on older turntables like this, with no internal pre-amps, the four connecting pins off your turntable needle/cartridge are, electrically, connected directly to your receiver/amplifier. That means if you’re missing a channel, it’s a continuity problem: The guts of the turntable are simply wires.
First, I checked the continuity between the connections right at the needle and the solder joints on the inside of the deck. All beeped, so they’re good. Then I checked the solder connections to the end of the RCA ring/tip connectors. Sure enough, one was bad! I was surprised that old RCA jacks would actually fail like that. Hmph. I took a spare RCA cable, and cut off one end. Then I stripped the wires, revealing four different wire paths. I unsoldered the old one and soldered in the new one, making sure to leave a stress-relief knot, so the cable couldn’t be yanked out by accident.
Second thing I noticed was that the speed of this turntable is slightly slow. I searched around online and found that this is a well-chronicled issue with the model 6100 turntable. It’s driven by an AC motor, so a simple adjustment of the input voltage to the motor won’t remedy this issue. Somewhere online in a forum I saw someone recommend getting a slightly shorter belt. I called a few hi-fi stores and came to the conclusion that 25″ belts are common but 24.9″ belts, in fact, do not exist.
Then I got the idea of adding something to make the motor shaft very slightly larger in diameter, since that would effectively make it turn the belt faster. Scotch tape, maybe?? Sure enough, it works! At first I added two layers of tape and now my speed went from like 5% slow to like 5% too fast–a thin layer sure goes a long way. I took off one layer of the scotch tape so now it’s just a single loop around the motor shaft. With only one loop, now the turntable runs very, very slightly fast; maybe like 1-2% faster than normal. It’s the kind of thing where, if you’re listening hard for it, you could pick it out with effort, but if you sat down not knowing that the table was ever so slightly fast, you’d probably never notice.
At first I wondered if it would annoy me (5% too slow DEFINITELY annoyed me!) but after listening to a whole bunch of albums, I think I actually enjoy everything sped up by an almost imperceptible amount. It’s not enough to affect the pitch of familiar records; or if it is, being slightly sharp is less offensive to my ear than being flat. It does add a subtle extra ‘kick’ or energy, having that increase in tempo–an extra bpm or two. I’m digging it!
Lastly, I was getting distortion in the sound, like the signal was being overdriven or something. I figured since the turntable is nothing more than wires and mechanical support for the stylus, it was probably the stylus. Spoiler alert: it was. The old stylus was a Pickering VX-15 with a dust brush on the front. That dust brush seems like a great idea in theory, but it sort of sucks in reality: seems like it makes the record skip more, and you need lots more tracking force to prevent that. I’m not sure how old that needle was, but from the looks of it… OLD.
The Pickering was swapped out with a Grado “Green 1″ cartridge. Ka-BAM! This baby breathed a whole new life into the 6100. The anti-skate weight was missing from my deck, so I improvised with a couple zinc washers and some thread. I kept getting skips at the very start of every record, even when I had a lot of tracking force on the arm. Adding the anti-skate weight got rid of those skips at the beginning and allowed me to dial back the amount of tracking force needed. It’s still probably too much right now, but it is nice not getting any skips at all even on records which have known spots prone to it. I’ll keep dialing it back in the weeks to come.
The 6100 has two simple but nice features that I’ve enjoyed: auto-return and auto-shutdown, and buttons to toggle between 33/45 rpm. My other deck, the venerable Pro-Ject Debut III doesn’t have either of these. Auto return/shutdown means that you don’t have to worry about accidentally letting the turntable skip on the last groove all night because you forgot to shut it off, which I’ve totally done. The 33/45 buttons are a very basic feature the Pro-Ject lacks–you actually have to remove the platter and move the belt by hand, which gets old. Maybe that sounds lazy, but you end up yanking on the spindle too much to get the platter off, and I worry about long-term wear that might be causing. It just makes me nervous doing it, so I listened to less 45s on that deck. No longer!
But oh man, this Grado Green cartridge is awesome. The Pro-Ject Debut III has an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, and that turntable sounds excellent. For the Marantz, I wanted to get a different brand, for the sake of sonic variety. Since I love my Grado headphones, it was a logical choice to try out their cartridge line. I’d describe the Ortofon as the “cleaner” of the two, and the Grado as the “warmer” of the two. That said, it’s not a jaw-dropping difference between them.
I hooked up the headphone extension cable and put on my Grado SR-225 headphones for a long listening session this last weekend… now that was really enjoyable!! Laying on the carpet with my eyes closed, blasting familiar recordings and oh yes, hearing a bunch of new details within them, thanks to yet another different listening setup. It’s chicken soup for the soul, just doing nothing but soaking in the awesome sounds of your favorite albums. After the soldering, reassembly, and tweaking this is the reward; not critical listening but blissful listening. I’m going to make it a point to just hang out and listen to records over the next few weeks, reaquainting myself with the collection again and enjoying the tunes. That’s what it’s all about!
Here’s an awesome milestone in my electronic music-making pursuits: this Thursday a copy of Reason 6.5 showed up on the doorstep! Having used every update back to 2.0, it’s very exciting to have my own legit copy of the latest and greatest iteration. Probably the best part about Reason 6 is that it added support for recording external sounds directly into the program to layer them on top of your tracks; the lack of this was the single biggest downfall of previous versions. They’ve changed several other things and added some new devices which I’ll need to explore as well… it’s time for me to spend some quality time here and do some learning. PUMPED UP!
This year for christmas, I received a gift from my lovely fiancée that I’m pretty excited about: vPulse in-ear headphones made by Velodyne. These things are an interesting product: Velodyne is almost exclusively a subwoofer manufacturer, and a pretty good one. It’s a bit random that they decided to come out with some headphones. It’d be like if the people who make Swiss Army Knives, a renown and very specific product, were like, hey, let’s make a circular saw. Those guys probably have a good idea about what specific attributes would make a good circular saw, but it takes a different set of expertise to actually manufacture that. Can they pull it off?
I get the distinct impression that Velodyne’s designers had owned and lived with in-ear headphones for a decent amount of time before coming up with the vPulse. I’ve had a set of Etymotic Research ER6i in-ear headphones for many years now and they’re a great set of headphones. But they embody many of the pitfalls characteristic to in-ear headphones: the cables easily get tangled up when you store them, those same cables tend to make noise if they brush against anything (read: your shirt) when you’re listening, the rubber noise-isolating tips can get uncomfortable in longer listening sessions, and of course: the bass is literally absent. Not just crappy bass–NO bass. I imagine two Velodyne engineers having a conversation: “Hey, how do you like those Etymotics?” “They’re pretty nice. No bass at all though. I usually listen to them with my subwoofer running too. Kinda defeats the point of in-ear, but I gots to have them low notes.”
So how did they do?
Amy Winehouse’s voice sounds rich and present on “Tears Dry on Their Own”, a favorite song of mine from her album Back to Black. I can hear some subtle phasing effects I’d never noticed before on the opening synths from Llorca’s “The End”; that’s maybe a simple byproduct of the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever listened to that tune on in-ear headphones before. Different listening setups, without question, will emphasize a different set of nuances in any given recording. I hear the backup vocals a lot more on Eric Krasno’s “Be Alright”. A large number of previously obscured details pop out on “ReEmergence” by Sound Tribe Sector 9. And the elephant in the room: all this stuff has bass! Specifically, the basslines are well defined and full. There’s no bloated resonances of particular notes. Pitches and key changes are distinct. Sometimes bass-heavy setups can sort of smear that low-range into a nebulous barrage of noise, which is not the case here.
Of course the lowest of the lows are still missing, which is only logical. Deep, deep bass is felt more than heard. Bass drum is the most apparent manifestation of that fact. Basslines definitely have the juice in these babies, but the forceful punch-in-the-chest of a kick drum is something that’s intrinsically reproduced only by Velodyne’s main product, a subwoofer. That said, the vPulse are extremely capable. If you’re looking for some noise-isolating headphone with real kick to them, this is IT. These things are going to be heavenly next time I ride an airplane: they’ll totally block out all the annoying kids, the overly loud intercom announcements, and the obnoxious business travelers yapping about synergy.
A few other listening notes for anyone who might be interested in a pair of these:
- For anyone who’s never had in-ear headphones before, note that you will hear NOTHING happening outside of your music. Someone could be sitting right next to you, loudly calling your name and you will be oblivious. You would not want to use these, say, going for a jog down the street. They would be perfect for a quiet office or a loud subway train though.
- I listened with a mild EQ: a dip of maybe -3dB at around 2kHz. Maybe my ears are especially sensitive at those frequencies, but I think anything and everything always sounds better with a small midrange cut.
- The cables on these things are flat and thin, which I like. Only time will tell if they resist tangling or become permanently bent-up like the Etymotics did. I have a good feeling about them. The hard case which comes along will help keep them in good shape I think.
- Best way to avoid cable noise is to use the clip on your cable and hook it on your shirt close to the neck, so that both sides have plenty of extra room to make a wide swing around before reaching the ear.
- I was actually made aware of these headphones by this review. Says something strong if you’ve got a hundred pairs of headphones to listen to but you keep coming back to these…
- The rubber ear tips are comfortable! If I listen to my Etymotic ER6i’s for more than an hour or so, my ears start to feel sort of sore. I’ve yet to experience that with the Velodynes.
- The basslines on “To Feel Good” (accessible in the navigation bar music player from this website, or for download in the music section) sounded authoritive, powerful. Those basslines were some of the most challenging low-frequency material I could throw at the vPulses and they handled it great. There’s some strong sub-bass sine waves in there which simply aren’t present listening back on other systems without the proper bass-response. Color me impressed. Velodyne hooks it up!
As previously stated, I attended this year’s Bear Creek music fest purely as a soul-food spectator; no camera, no zoom recorder, no phone, no nothing. Just pure eyes and ears. That was a good decision, a liberating thing that allowed me to savor the experience with no distractions. For those so interested, I’ll go over the highlights from this year.
1. Headtronics. This was the unknown band that knocked me out. Members include DJ Logic, Freekbass, Will Bernard on guitar, Steve Molitz (keyboardist from Particle), and a live drummer who sorta stayed in the background. I went to watch these guys never having heard of them before, and had zero expectations. We were right in front and damn… my socks were knocked clean off by the end of the first tune. Electronic beats with top-notch musical integration between the players. Will Bernard had some killin solos and Steve Molitz on keyboards held his own too. Out of everything I saw, this one made me go for the dancefloor high score. I definitely want to find a taped recording of this show. This was the unforeseen gem!
2. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. This one’s more obvious. People had been hyping up this group to me for a long time–they lived up to those expectations. Sharon is the real deal. The new-generation torchbearer in the Aretha Franklin style soul champion lineage. Superb energy, showmanship, passion, and legit vocal chops. In-tune, on-point, and selling it all night. FIRE. I would see this group again in a heartbeat.
Honorable mention for the Sugarman 3. These guys used simple arrangements with impeccably tasteful sounds for an ensemble greater than the sum of the parts. Solos were short but sweet and the whole deal felt polished & choreographed, in a good way. I bought their new LP afterward.
Flops I Really Wanted to Like:
1. The Budos Band. These guys were the biggest disappointment of the fest. I really wanted to love them. I tried hard. I adore their albums, their horn section sounds great, plus their set list for the evening was perfectly selected but… something just didn’t come across live. The energy was lacking, the solos were universally mediocre at best, and the stage banter between tracks was comprised of yelling/cursing. Strange. I would not go see them again. Unfortunate.
2. Charles Bradley. This guy used to be a James Brown impersonator who then started doing his own material. Awesome concept and I had heard rave reviews of his live performance, however his intonation was off quite often, which turned me off quick. And his dancing came off as silly and laughable to me. Maybe someone else would dig it but not me. Cheesy.
Big Chief Eric Krasno seemed more mellow this year, perhaps reflecting a deeper, personal contentment with his recent engagement (I know that feel bro!). But he did take the crowd to probably the most intense musical peak of the festival with his solo on Soulive’s “Eleanor Rigby”. That was a major highlight. In later solos he seemed content to let it marinate, particularly in Lettuce’s second set.
Eddie Roberts also reached for the sky on a thrilling rendition of “Thermal Bad” which gave Krasno a run for his money in my book. You could debate which rollercoaster took you higher, but it would come down to a matter of personal preference: Krasno is more soulful and possibly a little more dexterous in his playing, while Roberts delivers his distinctive articulation style and unimpeachable ability to sustain a long crescendo of energy even atop of a raging band behind him. Either way, those two set the bar.
Most Silver-Lined Cloud:
The keyboard player for the New Mastersounds, Joe Tatton, was unable to attend, due to some kind of visa issue. In his place Robert Walter filled in for two whole sets, playing their catalog with a mix of impressive accuracy where appropriate and fascinating divergence where space existed for personal interpretation. Having seen the Mastersounds perform probably close to 20 times now, I have long felt that Tatton is the most unpredictable element of the gig; swinging from bored and unengaged over to fiery and wickedly good–you never know what the night will hold with him. There were multitudes of spots where Robert Walter hit a grand slam on the B3, peppered throughout both sets. I profusely enjoyed seeing this NMS configuration. A delight, unquestionably. I did miss Joe’s top-notch space-outs, effects use, his clean dexterity, and overall sensibility. But this was a treat. I do want to see Joe back at the keys, but seeing this incarnation of my favorite band was probably the best overall highlight of the fest for me. Sort of an alternate reality, ‘what-if’ version of the band. And a badass, enthralling one at that.
Best Facial Expressions:
The bass player from Chapter 2, handily. He wins this contest every year with his huge infectious smile, but this time he took it to another level with a deranged look that said “is this for real, or is this really for real?!” Out in the crowd we were giggling and yelling “I know, I KNOW!”
Most Impressive New Chops:
Rashawn Ross, the trumpeter for Lettuce, completely blew up their first night with resoundingly powerful, clean, clear high notes and one particularly superb solo; doubtlessly the best I’ve ever heard from him, studio or live. This guy’s been hitting the practice room and it showed.
Most Promiscuous Sit-Ins:
Pee Wee Ellis, the elder statesman of tenor sax, decisively had the highest number of guest appearances. He does need a little certain je ne sais qua to ‘push’ him into taking a great solo. He’s capable, of course, but the right mood has to be there. This was best achieved with Ike Stubblefield’s group. Bill called it; “That was the best Pee Wee solo I’ve ever heard.” Indeed.
Best Musical Interaction:
Eddie Roberts and Grant Green Junior shared the stage during one tune of the second New Mastersounds set. Grant Green was parked on his barstool and Eddie stood close next to him for an extended session of trading solos. Their trading had a very advanced level of musicianship where they finished each other’s phrases and challenged one another by echoing styles and techniques on top of those continuous riffs. Their facial expressions during this exchange were also humorous as they sought to one-up each other. At the end of it, my buddy Bill laughed and said, “I think Mister Roberts actually got a little bit of a lesson there!” Sort of heartwarming in a way, to see this exchange between different generations of musicians who continue in the tradition that Grant Green Senior began. I’m glad I was there to witness this.
Perhaps Robert Walter’s presence acted as a tacit invitation for guest appearances with the New Mastersounds because this year saw the largest amount of them out of the three years I’ve been to Bear Creek. In that same second New Mastersounds set, things got crazy when FOUR keyboard players took to the B3 and Rhodes, reaching over each other and elbowing for position in a comical, photogenic moment of sheer keyboard firepower. Included were Nigel Hall, Ike Stubblefield, Robert Walter, and Wil Blades. I yelled to Bill “Joe Tatton, you’ve been replaced!” Bill, ever the defender of Joe, said “no one man can replace Joe.” In spite of the joke, I do agree.
Most Valuable Player:
Nikki Glaspie seemed to be not only sitting in with everyone under the sun, but at the helm for several different acts I’ve never seen her with. She played drums both nights for Dumpstaphunk and although memory fails me as to who, she was main drummer for a few other acts as well. Her bombastic style, particularly the way she throws in extra accents and cymbal crashes anywhere but on beat one, has always made me enjoy her playing. She was everywhere at this fest, and dropping serious beats.
The vendors at this fest are remarkably consistent. Big shout out goes to the Grilled Cheese Wagon, who delivered a toasty and delicious three day run of grilled cheeses, egg wraps, and quesadillas. Why eat anywhere else when these people do it so solid without fail, every single time? Honorable mention to Homegrown music for supplying me with some excellent new shirts and being the worthy recipient of a custom cassette tape I labored over only to have the intended tradee disappear into craigslist oblivion.
The outdoor purple hat stage remained this year, which is definitely preferable to the tented configuration, sound-wise. They scheduled all affiliated acts consecutively though, which I sort of wish they hadn’t, in the interest of sit-ins and cross-pollination. Friday night the purple hat belonged strictly to Daptone records, and Saturday it strictly belonged to Royal Family records. Admittedly it was cool to see all of their offerings in a row, but still, for interbreeding these awesome musical endeavors, I prefer it mixed up.
There was also no end-of-the-fest treehouse jam session this year. In its place there was a VIP jam in the barn. We hung out there for a while and were not impressed with the sounds we heard. Don’t know who was playing but it definitely didn’t involve Royal Family, Daptone, or Nawlins. Instead we found a golf cart equipped with a heavy-duty laser light show and hopped on for an epic joyride. We tipped it over by accident, rode it through the woods, beatboxed with random passerbys, eventually arriving at an impromptu drum jam just up the road from our campsite where we spent the rest of the night generally banging on anything that made noise. Those kind of randomized interactions are very much a part of the festival experience and I’m glad there was a window to fit that in. Good. Frickin. Times.
I skipped writing a review on Innerspeaker, the first album by Australian psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala, because of a variety of reasons; it seemed like everyone already knew about it and I also did wonder if it was a one-off. Innerspeaker was an impeccably well written group of songs with such a delicious coating of 60s sheen that I doubted the band could replicate the same thing twice.
And with Lonerism they did not replicate it–they took the same sound and stepped a new direction, which is exactly what you want to see for the staying-power of an artist. Somewhere on the web I saw a critique of Innerspeaker that said “phasers were made for this album”. Troof! One thing Tame Impala fully excels at, is using reverb, delay, and them whirling, creamy phasers, to archetypal trippy effect. That heavy, dreamy phasing is back and sounding as good as ever here.
It should be mentioned right out of the gate that the mastermind behind the operation, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, has seriously got to be a lost love-child of Paul McCartney. It would be an understatement to say his voice is eerily similar to a young Paul. It is a closer match than ‘uncanny’. Which is an integral part of the draw here–a magnificent centerpiece to the band’s palette, summarized on amazon as using “the aid of gear and production techniques that sounded like they hadn’t been dusted off since 1968″. Indeed, some of the cuts could probably fool a blind-listener into thinking some forgotten late-60s vintage gem of an LP was spinning on the turntable.
My favorite track on the album still has to be the aforementioned “Apocalypse Dreams” with a mesmerizing minimalistic breakdown at its center, lyrics that oscillate between hopeful or sarcastic, and giant, piano-pounding chords anchoring a fuzzed-out version of the lyric melody on guitar, forming a truly epic ending that seems to float off into the sky as the slow fade brings you out easy. They should have ended the album with this one. This is the only cut on the album which was jointly composed by Parker and bandmate Jay Watson; whatever flavor that’s being produced by the combination of these two minds, I hope to hear more of that in the future.
Possibly a close second for favorite track on this outing was “Mind Mischief” which makes prominent use of synths that sound more like something Neon Indian would use; a touch of 1980s Tears For Fears, in some sparkly, slow motion nostalgic way. Maybe Neon Indian would use that same synth, but they wouldn’t fully submerge it in the calling-card phaser/flanger treatment it gets here. The moment at 2:48 where the new chord progression starts is a particularly wonderful spot for me. There is a good deal of phasing leading up to that moment but right then it somehow gets even thicker and bigger. It’s a great example of ‘just when you thought they couldn’t take it to another level, they go and take it to the next level.’ I would really love to know what kind of gear they are using to achieve that rich, warm effect they are getting. Just Magical.
As an aside, isn’t the back cover art awesome? I included it here at full-res, so you can scan around the image and check out this mountain of toys he’s working. Sweet picture…
That same Neon-Indian-esque vibe is also present in spades on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” and it works well. The infusion of this synth-heavier, vaguely 80s influence is what I was alluding to at the start when I mentioned a new direction for the style. I dig it. There were maybe hints of this on their first album, but Lonerism brings it to the fore. Another overarching theme here is the great usage of pauses in the music, where there is a short interval during which all instruments stop playing, only to resume in unison a second later. That’s a classic ‘cheap trick’ in songwriting that always works.
A major feather in the cap of Innerspeaker was the fact that it was 100%. No filler songs, no fluff, no annoying tracks you will skip every time they come up. They didn’t quite achieve the same level here, although the mark wasn’t missed by far. “Sun’s Coming Up” is sort of an amateurish-sounding screw off that offers a view of what sounds like Kevin messing around in the lab/practice room. Which is maybe interesting on that level, but it sticks out like an awkward sore thumb when placed next to all the finished-sounding polished compositions preceding it. The fact that this whimpering should-have-been-a-B-Side closes the album is regrettable–this is not the conclusion it deserves. “She Just Won’t Believe Me” is also something of an odd interlude that’s not really a song. And the constant plodding quarter note chords on every single beat of “Keep On Lying” can definitely get old. I like to picture ‘keyboard cat’ playing that background part. Hahahaha
But we’re delving into nickpickery now. Viewed from afar, Lonerism is a glorious, billowing flag planted atop a sand dune on a sunny afternoon at the beach. That is to say it’s magnificent. I have been looking forward to the release of Tame Impala’s second album ever since I heard the unimpeachable Innerspeaker, and it’s with a combination of relief, intrigue, and delight that I say they’ve got a worthy sequel here. As I’ve grown older, the amount of new rock music as a percentage of my music collecting has frankly plummeted Blame it on a perpetually diversifying taste for different genres and styles, blame it on oversaturation as a youngster with cookie-cutter bands that all used the same radio-friendly hard-rock formula, blame it on the sheer number of bands which use bass/drums/guitar/vocals, maybe a keyboard… and never anything else. Maybe I’ve gotten bored with it, maybe I need more variety, or maybe for me to enjoy rock like I once did, it has to have some kind of compelling ‘twist’ beyond the plain-vanilla form.
Tame Impala has that compelling twist, in the form of a young Paul McCartney doppelganger, spot-on vintage mastering, unparalleled tastefulness with rich phasers, and solid songwriting to showcase their novel, psychedelic sound that leans heavily on late 60s rock influences; the progenitor of the whole genre to begin with. These guys have gone back to the source and tapped into something equivalently timeless as it is overlooked in the sprawling “rock” section of today’s music stores. This band is something special, and I hope they produce many more excellent offerings along the path set forth by these superb first two.
Like “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb, this album is one that immediately seized me and has maintained a lasting draw, despite the fact that there are a few tracks on here that are definite throw-aways for me.
This album came out in 2004 and the album name suggests the tone within; a whole lot of riffing on space and cosmology. But unlike, say, Symphony of Science, this guy makes use of wickedly cool nerd samples without being cheesy about it. I do love me some Symphony of Science, but let’s be honest; it’s cheesy. What’s on this album is a hipper approach to melding science and music…
I should clarify what I said in the opener: the tracks on here with the female vocals really sound dated, to my ear. They’re something reminiscent of 1990’s BT production. Which I listened to maybe a few times too many and now I’m just finished with that sound. So perhaps to someone else, those cuts wouldn’t grate as hard.
But oh man, when Sheehan gets it right, he nails it. And in a way that I’m super into. It’s electronic music through and through, with something interplanetary in the sound palette. It shares that “we’re totally in outer space while we’re listening to this” vibe that Visit Venus had, but it’s not a retro 60s sound, it’s more of a late 90s, early 2000s electronica sound. Upon hearing this album, I went and checked out the rest of his catalog, but was unable to find anything like this album (again like the Flashbulb, the thing I latch onto seems to be a one-off).
Sheehan makes good use of ambient sounds. Which makes sense because film scores are apparently his main thing. The intro track to the album is a dreamy ambient affair with the muffled sounds of airport announcements in the background. It’s something that sets the tone, making you feel like we’re about to depart somewhere. Somewhere dreamy.
Track two busts right into the meat. Carl Sagan’s distinctive inflection questions: “How… Did the Universe… Arise? …. What was around… Before that? … Might there have beennn. No… beginning? … Could the Universe be… Infinitely. Old?” There’s some kind of surreal but subtle effect on his voice too that seems to precede his words in a captivating way. Then the beat drops and Carl Sagan gets peppered around for a while as the vibe marinates. At 1:50 when that first quote gets reintroduced, it feels good; like it’s something you could be piloting a futuristic space fighter over the surface of an alien world to, looking all badass.
Track four, Phobos, weaves together a lovely multicolored yarn of samples, with subtle piano, hand drums, etheral vocals, and maybe a couple other electronic sounds I can’t put my finger on. Then it ends with this long-ass movie quote with minimal music behind it, neither building up nor breaking down, which something which I always find tedious (I’m looking at you James Warren). Fortunately this long-winded speech is the exception to the rule on this album.
Cut number seven, entitled “Cosmology” opens up with a set of 4 repeating chords from a string section, building into a grooving lounge-type beat with vibraphone and guitar. And booyah, Carl is back, this time offering “the current scientific story of the universe” in which he explains the big bang theory as only he can. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt that Carl has masterful oratory skillZ (that’s skills with a capital Z), I think a key component here is the fact that the music builds and swells along with what he is talking about. The energy changes as his discussion goes on, which is kind of a fascinating format that I wish I knew more examples of. It’s like a long speech about interesting things, wrapped inside of a changing groove that switches density to add or subtract emphasis from the speech. That’s in contrast to what I was complaining about before, where a long expository quote tramples over the music; the equivalent of a one sided conversation where the music just can’t get a word in. That the music flows in tandem *with* the oratory is a pivotal distinction.
“Degrees of Freedom” is also worthy of note; a pleasant, flowing groove that uses acoustic guitar above a mellow four on the floor beat.
And then there’s my favorite jam on the album, called “System”. We hear astronaut samples for the first time, and it works so beautifully I really wish there were more cuts just like this. The song uses acoustic guitar and strings alongside a series of synthetic sounds in a very impressive melding of these disparate elements. The mood it sets is one perfectly suited to the “magnificent desolation” as Buzz Aldrin described. A kind of yearning but still graceful and full of wonder.
This is a great album, full of musical cues that transport the mind on a journey across space and time, unlike anything else I can name. The two tracks marrying Carl Sagan samples with sweeping music that neither overwhelms his words, nor falls limply behind them–all while avoiding coming off as cheesy–make it a memorable listen alone. That Sheehan goes on to populate his odyssey with other compositions which stand on their own merits as clever sci-fi/science-y mashups make this album required listening for all nerdy types. This one is a touchstone for me, for all the reasons detailed herein.
Been a while since the last post; got a few in the works, but you know, logjams.
Anyway, check out this Tama Impala song from their next album due in October. Their first album, Innerspeaker, was so damn good that I really had very low hopes their new album could live up to the same level. This tune does give me hope though. Even if the rest of the album is throwaway, this tune is a huge number. With some great lyrics that are both whimsical and deep in the same breath…
I’m a sucker for that long, drawn-out, epic ending. Sort of like “Where the River Goes” by Stone Temple Pilots, off that landmark album, Core.