End-of-2017 Stuff

I submitted some requested year-end material to Part-Time Audiophile and, while a portion of my contribution was used, here’s the full version.


— One best new component and three runner’s-up.

Not sure if it qualifies as a component… but I sure like the new MacBook Pro 15”. The illuminated touch-bar thingie is more than just ooh-ahh eye candy; its context-sensitive and user-configurable features are a big help in certain apps. The machine is fast and responsive under OS 10.13.2 and the screen is amazing.

iTunes is more bloated and dopey than ever (and still no FLAC support — what’s up with that?), and I’m not too excited about having to shell out another $129 for a compatible version of Microsoft Office… but hey, I’m never happy unless I can whine about something.

Runners up:

1) OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock (essential with the above, at least for me)
2) Zu Audio Druid Mk VI speakers
3) Zesto Allasso step up transformer

–One best affordable component and three runner’s-up.

1) Not going to single any one unit out, but I like the trend of good, (relatively) inexpensive headphone amps (especially of the tube variety) that double as preamps. Too many to choose from.

Runners up:

1) Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC
2) Marantz’s line of multichannel AV preamp-processors
3) Not so much a component, but I enjoy those free DirectStream firmware upgrades (Bridge II and DAC) from PS Audio.

–One most coveted product (the one YOU personally want the most).

Zesto Andros Tessera phono preamp. I like dials. And switches. On the front panel. Yes, my girlfriend will ask me if it makes toast and complain about stubbing her toe on the massive outboard power supply. I will ignore her and flip switches and turn dials.

–One product of the year.

Roon and Tidal MQA make pretty sweet music together — when Tidal isn’t stuttering from bandwidth issues, that is. I’ve gotten so used to Roon that, when I open an older version of JRiver, I wonder why I endured the latter’s Mac-unfriendly interface and weird, redundant configuration screens for as long as I did.

Recent Vinyl Intake

Robbie Basho The Grail & The Lotus (Takoma C1007, indeterminate origin reissue) LP

Robbie Basho Basho Sings Volume 3 (Takoma C1012, indeterminate origin reissue) LP

Biosphere The Petrified Forest (Biophon Norway BIO30LP) LP

Califone Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People (Jealous Butcher US JB 100) 2xLP

Suzanne Ciani Lixiviation 1969-1985 (Finders Keepers US FKRO53LP) LP

Ry Cooder Paris Texas original soundtrack (Real Gone Music US RGM 0538) (blue vinyl LP reissue)

Champion Jack Dupree The Women Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree (Folkways US FS 3825) (used LP)

Floating Points Reflections – Mojave Desert (Luaka Bop ‎UK 5041) LP+DVD

Blaze Foley [self-titled] The Lost Muscle Shoals Recordings (Lost Art US LAR1025V) (reissue LP)

Florian Fricke Die Erde Und Ich Sind Eins (Wah Wah Spain LPS190) (reissue LP)

Geraldine Fibbers Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home (Jealous Butcher US JB 150) 2xLP clear vinyl reissue

Kenji Kawai ‎Ghost In The Shell original soundtrack (We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Switzerland WRWTFWW017LTD) (LP+7+booklet reissue)

Nine Inch Nails Deviations 1 (Nothing Records B0026309-01) 4xLP

Popol Vuh Sei Still, Wisse Ich Bin (Wah Wah Spain LPS191) (reissue LP)

Ragnar Grippe Sand (Dais Records US DAIS 097) (clear vinyl reissue LP)

Midori Takada Through The Looking Glass (We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Switzerland WRWTFWW018) (2x45rpm reissue)

Neil Young Massey Hall 1971 (NY Archives/Reprise US 43328-1) 2xLP

Sara Lov “Some Kind Of Champion” review on Part-Time Audiophile

How did a 2015 release become my favorite album of 2016 — and why did it take me seven more months to communicate that fact? Don’t ask. Just read. My review is now up on Part-Time Audiophile.

Favorites of 2016

wiltzie-saleroIn order to supplement my top-five on Part-Time Audiophile, here’s ten things that came close to pulling 2016 out of the fire.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith EARS (Western Vinyl) FLAC

Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie Salero (original soundtrack) (Erased Tapes) LP*

Sara Lov Some Kind of Champion (Splinter/self-releasd) LP

Loscil Monument Builders (Kranky) LP

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith/Suzanne Ciani FRKWYS 13/SUNERGY LP (FRKWYS/RVNG)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen Iris (Erased Tapes) FLAC

Steve Hauschildt Strands (Kranky) LP

Various (The Microcosm) Visionary Music of Continental Europe (Light In The Attic) 3xLP

Ocoeur Reversed (n5MD) LP

K. Leimer Re-enact (Palace of Lights) CD

Happiest of New Years to all and here’s to a peaceful and better 2017.

* Points off for being one of the most disappointing Erased Tapes pressings I’ve heard – ‘way too much surface noise and too many concentric ‘click’ segments.

Suzanne Ciani/Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith/Don Buchla on Part-Time Audiophile

Suzanne Ciani & Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith in BolinasWhere have I been? Oh, around. Doing stuff. Working. Herding cats, that sort of thing.

And I’ve been working on reviews of albums by Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. You can read the outcome at Part-Time Audiophile. As always, many thanks to PTA editor/mastermind Scot Hull for giving me space to ramble.

And from the To Make a Long Story Interminable Dept. — coming soon: Part 3 of the continuing saga of my attempts to, y’know, process that Tower Records movie, All Things Must Pass.

Court Rules Led Zeppelin Did Not Steal The Intro to “Stairway To Heaven” from Spirit’s “Taurus”

The world is once again safe for overplayed and overrated seventies power ballads with lyrics that read as though they were scribbled by a hobbit on mescaline.


All Things Must Pass – The Rise and Fall of Tower Records – Part 2 – Continuation Dreams

Even now, nearly 25 years later, I still have these dreams.

I guess they’re anxiety dreams. Continuation dreams. In more ways than one.

I’m back at Tower. They’ve gone bankrupt, then reorganized. Inexplicably, I find myself employed there again. Don’t ask how. It’s a goddamned dream. It’s not supposed to make sense.

The setting is a sprawling office complex. It’s a workday, but also a party; no one’s really doing anything that resembles work. People are milling around, coming, going, laughing, talking. Drinking. It’s hard to tell if anyone knows what’s going on, but a good time is being had.

I try to look busy. Somehow, having a good time and looking somewhat busy seems more important than actually getting anything done.


When Colin Hanks announced a Kickstarter campaign in June 2011 to fund a documentary about Tower Records, I backed him — admittedly, mainly to get a copy of the movie.

10679807_10152717710007070_7625872736727229695_oI received the DVD premium almost five years later. I sat down and watched it a month ago. I watched it again tonight.

Hanks had a tough job. Although the concept intrigued me, I’m wasn’t (and still am not) sure how anyone could make a film about Tower. Not running less than two hours, anyway. It’d have to be a miniseries. Or a full 13-episode season. There’s so many personalities and peaks and valleys and anecdotes and nuances to cover.

A brief bit of background (OK, a disclaimer): As related in part 1, beginning at age 24, making $4.25 an hour, I spent close to 10 years at TRIP (Tower Records Import Products), a central warehouse in West Sacramento, CA. I was head buyer for imports and independent labels for the Tower chain. That’s me in the photo — bad hair and all — a couple months before I quit.

I worked with all the Tower employees who were interviewed for the film. It got me thinking about the people at Tower and my time there; I figure I should get some of this stuff down before I forget it. Or allow time and sentimentality color it further.

Before I bellyflop into this particular adult-sized kiddie pool, it has to be said:

All Things Must Pass is NOT a documentary.

It isn’t a balanced examination of all sides of Tower’s rise and fall from a journalistic non-angle. Simply having Steve Knopper from Rolling Stone second-guessing the history of the company — and the music industry in general — doesn’t constitute “balance.”

So, if it isn’t a documentary, what is it?

It’s more a love letter.

Or perhaps, more accurately, an obituary. A celebration of life.

Or, rather, a celebration of the curiously ambiguous slogan No Music, No Life.


[to be continued]

All Things Must Pass – The Rise and Fall of Tower Records – Part 1 – This Is About Me

Sometime in 1983 I was living near LA and killing time before attending a concert. I walked into a nearby Tower Records store.

It was my first time in a Tower. I’d heard they had a good import single selection, but all I could find were top-100 and oldies 7″s. I walked to the front counter and asked if there was a special section for imports.

The clerk didn’t look me in the eye. Not that I could really tell — he was wearing sunglasses. I guess it was pretty bright in there.

“Everything’s alphabetical, man.”

I left without buying anything.

A year later I’m in West Sacramento, standing in the offices of TRIP, Tower’s import warehouse. Keith, the head buyer, is leaving to run Tower Japan, and they’re looking for a successor.

Keith and I talk for awhile. It’s more an informal chat than an interview. Keith asks what kind of music I’m into and seems to perk up when I mention YMO, Ryuicihi Sakamoto, Eno, Zappa, and Todd Rundgren.

On the way out, he introduces me to Earl, his boss.

“How is he about drugs?” Earl asks Keith.

I feel bold enough to answer for myself.

“Never touch the stuff.”

“Good. Thanks for coming up. We’ll be in touch.”

Other than my talk with Keith, that was the interview.

I was hired a few days later.

Over the next couple weeks I packed all my belongings and moved to Sacramento.

A few months later, I was informed a buyer for a SoCal store was flying up to pick an order. Would I meet him at the airport and drive him to TRIP? Of course I would.

He picked his order, walked into my office, announced he was bored, and asked what there was to do in Sacramento.

Being rather new in town myself, I told him I didn’t know much about Sacto hotspots, but we could grab some takeout and kill time at my cramped studio apartment in midtown before his flight, if he’d like.

We got to my place. He looked around. I got him a glass of wine.

He took a Quaalude, ate a couple bites of dinner, and passed out on my couch twenty minutes later.

While trying to figure out how I was gonna pour this guy into my car and get him to the airport, I suddenly realized…

…yes, he was that everything’s-alphabetical-man from my first visit to Tower in LA.

We’d come full circle.

Seymour Glass Interview

I knew I didn’t want the Bananafish reviews to explain the context or significance, or to describe what something sounds like, or to serve as a buyer’s guide. Any of the above might be a side effect, but it was more important to me to be worth reading more than once instead of churning out disposable cultural mediation.

bananafish-zineTower Magazines’ head buyer, Doug Biggert, used to import magazines via the department where I worked, and one day he stopped by and told me I should check out Bananafish.

It was a domestic magazine, but to me it seemed sourced from another planet. I’d read the record reviews and suddenly feel like I was coming on to a hit of acid.

In my world, that was high praise.

It still is.

If you’ve got the time, Decoder has the backstory.

And Tedium House has the back issues.

Vinyl Hit and Run

fbn114Some recent purchases:

The Durutti Column The Return of the Durutti Column (Factory Benelux LP)

The original 1980 Factory UK label edition of this LP was packaged in a sandpaper cover. Some things work so much better in concept than execution, especially when we’re talking Factory sleeve design — the jacket was very unfriendly to the neighboring records in one’s collection. This Belgian reissue is much more practical, the sandpaper portion of the package having been relegated to an insert (with ooh-worthy die-cut sleeve). This way, only the inside of the jacket bears the wrath of the grit.

The Durutti Column was Factory boss Anthony Wilson’s pet band (“it’s good music to chill out to,” Anthony-as-God chimed from on high at the conclusion of 24 Hour Party People). This ironically-titled debut was a welcome arrival from left field when it was released. Vini Reilly’s electric guitar rambled in a most pastoral fashion amid seeming acres of reverb and subdued e-percussion and the occasional tastefully-wielded drum set. The result is one of the finest instrumental albums of its era.

Return still sounds as though it was recorded (and released) in a vacuum amid the clamor of UK punk, post-punk and crappy new wave. The album proved that then-trendy UK labels could help give minimalism a good name, and it’s aged well, sounding as good or better over 25 years later. The pressing is clean, and trainspotters will rejoice in the inclusion of the Test Card 7″ single.

Blue Velvet Soundtrack LP colored vinyl

Maybe I should have been warned by the “Limited to: 5 Per Customer” caveat.

I suppose you could blame it on the limited-to-1000 blue vinyl, but the surface noise on this is simply awful. But at least the mastering is unlistenably shrill and shallow. The 1986 US CD sounds a LOT better. And when did you last hear that a 1986-issue CD sounded better than an LP?

This is one to avoid unless you’re buying it only to sell it on Discogs at a vast profit a year or two from now (let’s see those hands!). It’s a profound waste of potential, because the score is excellent, in kind of a Bernard Hermann-kind of way…and the sounds [could] bring David Lynch’s tensely weird atmospheres and kinky, often violent images to the forefront of your imagination.

If this LP’s mastering and pressing weren’t so substandard, that is.

Keith Jarrett The Koln Concert 2LP

Another major disappointment. Clear vinyl, limited to 1000. The surface noise is as bad as it is on Blue Velvet (clear vinyl usually being superior to blue or any other color; go figure), but the mastering here is…funky. And not in a good way. It sounds as though someone bumped up the low mids, and Jarrett’s emphatically dextrous left hand requires a more delicate touch on the EQ. Instead, extended muddy segments are the result — especially on (the usually revelatory) side two.

If you have a 1975-through-1980 ECM pressing of this, hang on to it, because it leaves this reissue in the dust. Honestly, guys: 180 gram means nothing if you’re pressing the album on vinyl with the quality of recycled tires. C’mon.

The Revenant score – Ryuichi Sakamoto/Alva Noto/Bryce Dessner (Milan/Regency colored vinyl 2xLP)

I ordered this from WEA US. It was 45 bucks, including media mail shipping.

The vinyl is pretty, a swirly, icy grey-blue. The pressing is awful. The first track on side one has a two-click-every-revolution scratch. The surface noise throughout both sides of both discs is horrible. The gatefold sleeve artwork is lovely, but the jacket was manufactured too tight for two albums and it’s nearly impossible to get the LPs back in the sleeve once you remove them.

WEA, of course, won’t give you your money back — they will only send you an exchange copy.

Chalk it up to experience; don’t buy colored vinyl if you care about fidelity, and definitely don’t buy it from WEA.

Older posts «

» Newer posts