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.

Janet Feder review on Part-Time Audiophile

20150330_daliophoto__DSC7602-CMy favorite recording this year was Janet Feder’s T H I S C L O S E.

Read all about it on Part-Time Audiophile.

I’ve heard this album on LP, CD, FLAC and DSD, and listened to the transcoded MP3s on an iPad. I’ve played the CD on repeat in my truck’s trusty mid-fi Rockford Fosgate system, and streamed it to my backyard patio’s cheap Polk “weather-resistant” speakers. The 5.1 SACD mix, when it arrives, will test the mettle of what passes for my home theatre system. It’ll all be good. Great, even. You don’t need an audiophile pile of hardware to appreciate Janet’s music, but if you need something new and unique to show off your fancy-pants system, this is it.

Favorites of 2015


Janet Feder T H I S C L O S E (self-released / Bandcamp) LP

Jasmine Gufford Yellow Bell (Sonic Pieces, Germany) CD

Max Richter Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon, US) FLAC

Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky, US) LP

Loscil Adrift (self-released) app

Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie Travels in Constants Vol 24 (self-released / Bandcamp)

Kate Burkart Save Me A Seat (Luckystar, US/self-released) CD

Bill Nelson Quiet Bells (Sonolux, UK) CD

Bersarin Quartet III (Denovali, Germany) FLAC

Christina Vantzou No3 (Kranky, US) 2xLP

Jóhann Jóhannsson with Hildur Guðnadóttir & Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe End Of Summer (Sonic Pieces, Germany) FLAC

Ryuichi Sakamoto Left Handed Dream (MIDI, Japan) DSD (reissue)

Hans-Joachim RoedeliusTape Archive 1973-1978 (Bureau B, Germany) 3xLP + CD box


David Gessner All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West (W.W. Norton and Company)

B. Lynn Ingram & Frances Malamud-Roam The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow (University of California Press)

Craig Childs The Secret Knowledge of Water : Discovering the Essence of the American Desert (Back Bay Books)

Stella Beratlis Alkali Sink (Sixteen Rivers Press)


Recent Vinyl Intake

41nx38KzFCL._SX355_Angelo Badalamenti ‎Blue Velvet (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Varèse Sarabande US – Newbury Comics blue vinyl reissue)

Robbie Basho Visions Of The Country (Gnome Life Records US reissue)

Robbie Basho Art Of The Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12 (Gnome Life Records US reissue)

Christopher Bissonnette Essays In Idleness (Kranky US)

Tom Carter Long Time Underground (Three Lobed Recordings/ Divide By Zero US)

Alessandro Cortini ‎Sonno (Hospital Productions US)

James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg Ambsace (Paradise Of Bachelors US)

Giles, Giles And Fripp The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp (Cherry Red UK reissue)

Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky US)

Keith Jarrett The Köln Concert (ECM Records US – Newbury Comics clear vinyl reissue)

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge Full Moon (A&M US – used)

Arvo Pärt Passio (Et In Arcadia Ego/The Ajna Offensive US reissue)

Phase90 Infinitati (echospace [detroit])

Popol Vuh Letzte Tage – Letzte Nächte (Wah Wah Records Italy reissue)

Popol Vuh Das Hohelied Salomos (Wah Wah Records Italy reissue)

Red Temple Spirits Dancing To Restore An Eclipsed Moon (Mannequin US reissue)

Red Temple Spirits If Tomorrow I Where Leaving For Lhasa, I Wouldn’t Stay A Minute More… (Mannequin US reissue)

Max Richter From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon US)

Max Richter / Vivaldi / Daniel Hope / Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin / André de Ridder Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Deutsche Grammophon US)

Arthur Russell World Of Echo (Audika US reissue)

Stars Of The Lid Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky US reissue)

Scharpling And Wurster Rock, Rot & Rule (Stereolaffs/ Flannelgraph Records US reissue)

Sun City Girls Torch Of The Mystics (Abduction US reissue)

Teeth Of The Sea A Field In England: Re-Imagined (Rocket Recordings UK)

Laurence Vanay – Laurence Vanay (Lion Productions US reissue)

Vangelis L’Apocalypse Des Animaux (Polydor Japan – used)

Christina Vantzou No3 (Kranky US)


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