$47K Lusso Turntable

Montegiro Spins Vinyl on $47K Lusso Turntable
The Lusso turntable from German manufacturer Montegiro features audiophile design and performance at German luxury sedan pricing.

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I’m sure our DIY friend who loaded up his million-dollar theater with McIntosh would probably opt for Mac’s $8K turntable (I don’t recall seeing one on his equipment list), but the new Lusso turntable from Montegiro would suit those seeking out high-performance (and high-priced) luxury.

The Lusso looks like it belongs in a museum of contemporary art—maybe next to a painting of a zebra—with its striped decor and tri-cone build. It’s priced like a work of art, too, starting from $47,000.

The connected cones are height-adjustable, and the zebra pattern comes from alternate aluminum and black acrylic. The upside down cone in the middle provides the support for the aluminum and acrylic platter.

Montegiro’s MG1 titanium cartridge and 10-inch Da Vinci Nobile carbon fiber arm, combined with the company’s new ultra-precise synchronous motor, help deliver what we expect is vinyl sonic bliss for discerning audiophiles.

Via: Audio Junkies

5 questions about vinyl records



5 questions about vinyl records


May 14, 2008 – 7:25 am

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Pitchfork Records owner Mike Cohen sold vinyl records long before anyone had ever heard of CDs. But what's old is new, and now, after 36 years in the business, he's selling records again.

For the past 2½ years, he's been buying back LPs and 45s and reselling them. And since many current artists are now putting their music out on vinyl, he also carries new records. If you're a stranger to the format and can't figure out how to make a record go round and round, Cohen would be happy to sell you a new turntable or needle, too.

We spoke to Cohen about the resurgence of records:

Is anybody under the age of 45 buying vinyl? Probably 60 to 70 percent of the people buying vinyl are under the age of 50. They may feel that they missed out on all the great artwork and liner notes. There's also a group out there that feels vinyl sounds better, (but that's) a whole different discussion.

Roughly how many LPs and 45s are in your inventory right now? I have well over 3,000 LPs used and about 500 new. We get vinyl in every day. I have over 1,000 45s.

How much are you charging for them? Much of our vinyl is 88 cents, and the rest ranges from $2 up to more than $100.

Not that I'd ever sell it, but how much would you give me for my 35-year-old copy of Big Star's Radio City? Your Big Star is worth about $5.

Even in the era of downloading and free music and the collapse of the music chain stores, Pitchfork somehow has managed to survive. So here's your free ad: What's the secret? I have survived thanks to my great, loyal customers and the service that we provide. A customer can order something that we are out of and get it the next day by 11. We have also branched out to used DVDs, used CDs. And we have the best selection of new CDs, meaning we carry stuff other people don't.





R.E.M. offers 45 rpm vinyl



R.E.M. offers 45 rpm vinyl

I have a theory about indie rock hipsters: you can tell how old they are by which R.E.M. album they say was "the last good one." Specifically, it was the last R.E.M. album that came out before they turned 22, the age at which most four-year college students graduate.

Will that be CD, CD+DVD, or CD+45 rpm double LP?

That puts me squarely in the Green camp. And in fact, while their next two albums made R.E.M. a household name, with songs like "Losing My Religion" (from Out of Time) and "Man on the Moon" (from Automatic for the People), I didn't like them. I don't really know why, except that Michael Stipe was no longer mumbling and his voice was mixed above the guitars, and MTV played them too much.

But I'm not a real hipster because I've bought and liked a few R.E.M. albums since then, and I love their 2001 studio album, Reveal, which places me in a very select group. (The album sold about 415,000 copies in the U.S. as of early 2007, according to Soundscan figures reported by U.S.A. Today–a great figure for most bands, but well off R.E.M.'s multiplatinum peak.) The trick was buying it on vinyl: when I heard the CD, I was lukewarm about it, but the record was on sale for $10 at a local Tower (remember those?) and so I bought it, figuring it would go nicely with all my other R.E.M. LPs. One night I couldn't sleep, so I played it for the first time at low volume at 4 a.m. It sounded completely different, with more solid bass and much better stereo separation, allowing to hear some interesting sounds buried in the mix.

This weekend, I went record shopping. I knew I was going to buy the new R.E.M. album, Accelerate. Being smart digital-age capitalists, the band (or Warner Bros.) is offering the new album in several formats, knowing that longtime fans might be willing to shell out a few bucks extra for something beyond the standard CD. The record store where I shop had the CD for $18–expensive for any new release, especially one I was buying mostly on spec. (I'd only heard the first song, and liked the loud guitars.) They also had a CD/DVD pack–the DVD includes a 46-minute film and extra music–for only $30. And, like Wilco and some other bands, they had a vinyl version with the entire CD included for downloading purposes, and this package also cost $30.

Remembering my past experience, I picked up the LP. Then I read the label closely and saw that it was to be played at 45 rpm, not 33 1/3 like most of the 12" LPs out there. According to a sticky label, the band did this "because sound quality matters." This was the first time I'd ever heard that 45 rpm LPs are supposed to sound better, but apparently it's old news in jazz, as record labels have re-released tons of classic jazz records on 45 rpm 180-gram vinyl. I haven't found a good technical explanation for why this is the case, but apparently spreading the same music over a longer curve makes the stylus track more accurately.

Unfortunately, my turntable has no button to switch speeds. Instead, I have to remove the platter, which is about 3/4" thick and made of heavy glass, and manually move the belt to a different setting. Then repeat the process before I play my other records, which are nearly all at 33 1/3 rpm. I'm too lazy–heck, I don't even like the fact that most LP sides are only two or three songs long nowadays, meaning that I have to bounce up and down every 10 minutes or so to flip the record. So I put it back and sprung for the CD instead.

Of course, if R.E.M. had been really finicky about sound, they should have released Accelerate as a 45 rpm LP with a blank underside, as apparently the flat surface adheres to the turntable better, eliminating certain unwanted vinyl resonances.

The album? So far, I've only listened to a few tracks, but I like what I've heard. It's loud and aggressive with lots of guitar, like 1994's Monster but more punk. But I haven't given it the 4 a.m. test.



Collectors record Jamaica’s music history



Collectors record Jamaica's music history
published: Sunday | May 11, 2008

Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Monty Blake (right), Winston Blake (centre) and Craig 'The Young Lion' Ross of the Merritone family.

Krista Henry, Staff Reporter

Some persons capture special moments on film, others in personal memories, but for some a good record can take them back into that golden moment. Record collecting is a pastime for millions of music fans the world over, and. in Jamaica, there are people who have acquired close to the ultimate music collections.

The Sunday Gleaner speaks with a few of the noted Jamaican music collectors in different genres and different professions. Sound system operator Winston 'Merritone' Blake's music collection is a 'national treasure', with music dating back to the days of early Jamaican music. Having begun collecting music in the 1950s, Blake happily describes himself as a music addict, addicted to buying and collecting records. According to Blake, he has never tried to count the number of records in his possession, but he has four to five bedrooms full of records.

Forty years after the discontinuation of 78 rpm records, Winston Blake has between 2000 and 3000 of them in his possession.

A love for music is what drives the Merritone family to their large collection having grown up in a family that has a passion for music. "My father got started commercially in music in 1950 and before that our home was alive with music from the gramophone we had. When we were in Morant Bay our house was known as the house that had the best in music. In the early days when they were importing rhythm and blues into Jamaica, persons would give us a call and no matter where we were in the island we would go and buy records," he said.

His desire to have the cutting edge in music is what drives Blake to accumulate his large collection. He elaborates that "my collection is extremely diversified. I love jazz, rhythm and blues; we're lovers of classical music and nobody knows that Jamaican music has a strong affiliation with Latin music. We have that, African music and more. Music is my life."

Blake has some of the rarest records in Jamaican music including the first recorded Jamaican ska song by Simms and Robinson, Another Chance. According to Blake early producers have to come to him for albums they produced that they themselves don't have. Now, Blake estimates that his collection is valued between one million and US$2 million.

National treasure

As for Blake's plans for his collection, he says "I have instructed my family that until the Jamaican officials sort themselves out and I'm sure that I can give them and they will take care of it (his collection), and treat it like a national treasure then my family is to keep it. I can't give them and they haven't shown me they can take care of it, and it don't walk out".

Outside of the selecting arena, there are those who pursue music through collecting. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga went from being one of the most important and successful producers and record company owners in Jamaica into politics. In the late 1950s, he supervised the recording of an album of ethnic music on the Folkways label, a project that grew out of scholarly research that he'd been engaged in. This whetted his appetite to do more with music and in the process he acquired his own collection of music.

"First of all, it came about not by design but by circumstances. I was doing research work on religious, spirituals and cult revival. I ended up recording quite a volume and wanted to have an album done. I prepared the music and people began to enjoy it, record shops started to asking about the music and I ended up providing them with music. I was in the process of changing from research work to something else, so I began to import records for music stores and I decided to manufacture music," he says.

Eventually, Seaga became an agent for the international music company Columbia Records, which gave Seaga his first vinyl. According to Seaga, he helped institute the use of vinyl records in Jamaica, which resulted in more artistes doing recordings, getting airplay and helped to jump-start the business. He explains that "before vinyl you had acetate. People who had sound systems used it to produce acetate of songs.

Total control

At the time, they would have total control of the tune and no one else had it, which was a big thing cause acetates were not available to the general public. Vinyl could go on air to be bought by general public".

Seaga founded his own label, WIRL (West Indies Recording Limited) and among his first signings was the Trench Town singing duo of Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson. WIRL scored a huge hit in 1959 with their first single, Manny O. When Seaga left Columbia Records as their agent the company gave the young producer a collection of music that he still has today. According to Seaga, he collects a lot of vinyl in genres such as folk music, spiritual music, Jamaican popular music and regular popular music.

After giving a lecture at the University of the West Indies on the origins of Jamaican traditional music, which he claims that few persons know about, Seaga decided to release a CD on the traditional folks music. "Most people who write books on Jamaican popular music write about the artistes and the songs. They don't collate that with the time and why they became popular," he says. Seaga is working on getting his CD released.

Music lover, and CEO of Super Plus supermarkets, Wayne Chen, has over 5000 CDs and 1500 vinyl records in his constantly growing collection. A self-proclaimed old school type of guy, Chen does not download music, but prefers to buy what he likes before everyone else.

Chen's collection

Chen's collection encompasses all genres from rock, jazz and reggae to dancehall. He is fond of listening to Wyclef Jean, older reggae artistes such as Peter Tosh and even admits to listening to singjay Mavado on occasions.

He tells The Sunday Gleaner that "the first album I ever bought was The Harder They Come after seeing the movie in 1971 when I was 12 years old. The second album I got was Cat Stevens' Tea For The Tillerman, because I had a Venezuelan friend who had the album and I had never heard anything like it".

According to Chen, he grew up in a family who loved music, from his mother, who collected Broadway musicals, to his father who was an admirer of jazz, and his cousins who listened to a lot of Jamaican music. Chen shares his musical knowledge with his children and persons who know of his love for music may stop by. He says, "I don't download. If I see a new artiste I like I listen on Youtube then go out and buy it. I'm sure there are stuff I have that might be hard to find now, but I don't go out and look for rare stuff."

Other popular figures rumoured to be avid music collectors include former Minister of Finance Omar Davies, dub poet Mutabaruka and Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie.




Adieu to the True Audiophile?


Adieu to the True Audiophile?
posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 23rd May 2008 13:02 UTC
Many of us grew up with the idea of the component audio system. A receiver (or a separate preamplifier and amplifier), tuner (radio), record player, tape deck, and later on a CD player. If you were into more fancy stuff, you had a DAT or MiniDisc deck as well. While some of us cling on to this mindset like there's no tomorrow, the real world seems to favour a different method of consuming music. According to Erica Ogg (what's in a name), the component audio system is on its way out – thanks to the iPod and the commoditisation of music.

My own setup is anything but exotic. I have a Sony STR-DE515 5.1 surround receiver, a Technics SL-PG420A compact disc player, a cheap EUR 75 Lenco record player, and two HiLo 60/90W three-way speakers. A fairly affordable set of components, most of which I snapped up at Marktplaats.nl, a Dutch eBay-like website. From the looks of it there doesn't appear to be anything special about these components – but there is. The CD player is well over 15 years old, and the speakers are most likely 20-30 years old.

And they still perform their intended functions in an outstanding manner. In fact, the old CD player playbacks scratched and old discs a lot better than just about any modern CD player I've ever used. I'm not entirely sure how old the device actually is, as there is little information to be found online, but I remember that the man who sold it to me stated it was from the early '90s.

The speakers are more interesting: they are from HiLo, a company from the small Dutch town of Wormerveer. The company is no longer in operation, and apart from a few online classifieds, the intertubes contain little information on the company. Most of these classifieds refer to speakers from the '70s, but I suspect mine are a little younger ('80s). Still, considering the age of the speakers, it's extraordinary they still work perfectly. I suspect the wooden speakers are hand-built – the craftsmanship is astonishing.

Anyway, this all appears to become a thing of the past. As Erica Ogg puts it:

If you think about it, the equipment that has traditionally defined the audiophile is antithetical to the way we experience music today. Speakers are clunky and immobile, and expensive shelf systems don't play easily swappable digital files. Instead, stereo shopping nowadays often means picking up an iPod and a speaker dock. The combination is cheaper, mobile, convenient, and, for better or worse, cool.

The sales of home audio equipment have been on a steady decline for the past ten years or so, with a sharp decline the past few years. "Home CD player sales totaled USD 36.2 million last year, but that's 35 percent below 2005 sales figures," Ogg cites from data from the NPD Group, "Home speaker sales are down 2 percent, but home shelf systems sales are down 40 percent in the same time period." Only the true audiophiles stick to the component, home audio market – the rest of the world is moving towards iPods and docks.

The industry is forced to consolidate; JVC and Kenwood have merged into JVC Kenwood Holdings, hoping to cut down on costs. D&M Holdings, the company behind high-end brands such as Denon, Marantz (Marantz! Marantz!), McIntosh, Snell Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, and Escient, is also up for sale – Harman International and JVC Kenwood are interested. Steve Guttenberg of Audiophiliac is concerned about these developments.

Audio today, as exemplified by the iPod, has become a mere commodity, most mainstream audio products are cranked out by anonymous subcontractors. What part(s) of an iPod was actually designed by Apple engineers? There's no there, there.

D & M Holdings products are different, they're designed and made by real people; when I visited the McIntosh factory a few years ago I was impressed by their dedication. McIntosh engineers still design McIntosh electronics, and the McIntosh workers don't merely assemble parts made by subcontractors, the make most of the things that go into a McIntosh in house.

These types of companies produce their equipment by hand, with an astonishing eye for detail and attention to customer service. "The products were made to last for decades, not just the length of a one-year warranty," Ogg writes.

I dislike the way people consume music these days – they don't take the time for it any more, they don't sit down on their sofas just to listen to music, to experience it, to revel in it. Music merely has an additional value these days, instead of an intrinsic value. It is no longer tangible – instead of a record cover or jewel case, you have a number of anonymous 1s and 0s.

And call me old-fashioned, but where's the soul in that?


Aerosmith – Draw the Line

Draw the Line is Aerosmiths 5th studio album and was released in June 1977, just one year after their ‘prime record’, Rocks. Considering it to be the follow up the their best rated album, you would have thought it to be again highly rated? Wrong! This album was absolutely slated by the critics, and even to this day is very underrated by fans. The album is built up of simple, yet effective hooks that are really in your face throughout the entrire record.

The trobules occuring back stage most definately contributed to the uniqueness of the album from their previous works. Nothing came similar before it and nothing has come similar since. One of the most noticeable areas where something appeas to be going wrong are in the credits. Where we would normally see most, or all of the songs written by the Tyler/Perry combo, we now only see a mere three. This was an indication of the growing tension between the two band members.

The album was recorded in a disused monastrey in New York state. which has given the recording a very rough sound. The sound of which can be compared to 60’s Rolling Stones records. Although not confirmed it could have been a deliberate attempt to recreate that sound, that the band were inspired by in the earlier days. Either way the sound surely suits the tracks.

The opening track, Draw the line is perhaps the most memorable riff on the album and is a great example of the rough edge to the music. It employs an almost embarrasingly simple guitar riff at a perfect tempo. Brillaint track! Although it’s not Tylers best vocal attempts, without his earthy scream it wouldn’t have the same effect.

The following track, I wanna know why, doesn’t have quite the same appeal as he previous, and Tylers vocals leave a lot to be desired. The track would probalby be much more suited to an instrumental, giveing a chance to hear the guitar and Tylers piano backing.

Critical Mass goes back to the blues/rock combination of their earlier days. Again though, Tyler does let down a little on the vocals, and the guitar is very quiet. As said in other reviews, the guitar seems almost deliberately dampened, which is a shame.

The next track, Get it up is somewhat average but still has a easily memorable melody, and Tylers voacls are slightly clearer but still not up to his standards.

Bright light fright is a refeshing change, with Perry as lead vocals. The track again is a bluesy style, with a wall of sound when played.

The B side starts with a very experimental track, Kings and Queens. It could be experimental rock on its own and has quite an interesting riff and vocals. It is probably the Gem of the record along with Draw the Line. The guitar is very clear on the track and Tylers vocals are much clearer although dampened. The lyrics themselves are also much more creative than the others found on the album and are ib a way, more complex and interesting.

The Hand that Feeds is the follow up and in my opinion is the most underrated track on Draw the line. The tracks main guitar is even simpler than Draw the line if that was ever possible, but the vocals are much more improved and there is a sense of power in there. You feel as though the band are making more of an effort and they really ‘mean it’. Tyler really uses his trademark scream to its full potential to match up to the simple and proud guitar track.

Sight for sore eyes is my personal favourite on the album and performs great live. It has all the catchy elements of the previous tracks but there is again a feeling that the band are performing and mean it. Without Sight for sore eyes the album has the potential to be dull, and for all the negative comments it already receives it would be disasterous. Playing the record through from start to finish, this is the one you always seem to remember, most probably due to the hypnotic chorus, melody at the end.

To conclude the record is the Milk Cow Blues, a cover of a blues track that is well executed from the original. Again, very catchy and the guitar is brilliant from start to end. The album probably wouldn’t miss this song but it is a great addition never the less.

Although I admit it is perhaps not their best work it is very underrated and deserves much more credit. Without it who knows where the band would be now?

I reccomend this to any rock lover and I advise you hear it on an analogue recording, whether it be record or cassette just to give it an extra raw sound.



Stereophile visit to RTI



A Visit to RTI & Acoustech

It's said that your first experience on entering a space sets the tone for all that follows. At LP pressing plant Record Technology, Inc. (RTI), that experience is my encounter with veteran pressman Richard Lopez, who responds to my request for direction. As he leaves his vintage record press to lead me to owner Don MacInnis, Lopez reads aloud the sticker on a box of recently pressed LPs. "WORLD'S FINEST PHONOGRAPH RECORDS," he declares with pride. As I reflect on how few workers today feel so connected to the products they make, I sense that something special lies ahead.

Soon this vinyl virgin is sitting in the cozy AcousTech mastering facility in Camarillo, California. Tucked into the rear of one of RTI's buildings, this hardly prepossessing space—one of perhaps four rooms in which vinyl is still mastered exclusively in the analog domain—is often considered the best-sounding LP mastering and lacquer-cutting studio in the US. Alongside me and MacInnis are the designer of the facility, Kevin Gray, almost 54, and his longtime partner in mastering crime, Steve Hoffman, 54.

"Between us, we have 108 years of experience," Hoffman quips. They've also mastered a good 10,000 albums. Outside the room is an oft-photographed wall displaying covers of some of the facility's prized platters. Seeing all those titles together might reduce Mikey Fremer to jelly.

Soon among us is Chad Kassem, whose Acoustic Sounds label is preparing to issue up to twenty-five 45rpm, 180gm LPs from prized Blue Note master tapes. Not only are these boys so accustomed to visitors that nothing I ask distracts them, but Gray later thanks me for not being a clone of one self-assured reporter who challenged his every move and decision.

Hoffman does most of the talking. "What we're doing in here is basically the same thing they've been doing since 1887. The cutting process really hasn't changed. You take some soft material and make a record. Emil Berliner turned it into a flat disc instead of a cylinder. Our main concern is that when I decide what I want the recording to sound like, the lacquer should sound the same."

It helps that this may be the only cutting room in the world that uses pure class-A amplification, all the way from the tape machine to the cutting head. Gray began building the transformerless room in the late 1970s, and has recently installed top-of-the-line AudioQuest cables. "I stayed away from this audiophile stuff until Joe Harley convinced me to try it, and I've been very happy." Soon will come aftermarket power cables. Citing my own experience, I predict that Gray will then be an even happier camper.

Hoffman explains that the legendary Rudy Van Gelder created the classic Blue Note sound. "The beauty of working with a Rudy Van Gelder master is that he's a very predictable engineer. Everything has a similar sonic signature, which makes it very easy for us. He favored a vibrant, slightly over-the-top coloration. It's a fairly bright sound. Even though he had a very high ceiling in his cutting room, he rode his equipment a little harder than usual. If you remove the signature, people feel you've lost the magic. We have to be careful to retain it while making the instruments sound as neutral and lifelike as possible.

"We have a diamond here. We polish it and put it in the best possible light. Other mastering engineers have their own ideas of what sounds best. Our philosophy is not to play God. We're not trying to reinvent history, not trying to make something sound modern. And we're certainly not going to resort to digital restoration, which kills the life as it kills the hiss."

Out with Mono
Gray, Hoffman, and Kassem soon launch into the first of several intense spiels about the stereo pedigree of these master tapes. ("Make sure your readers see this," insist the latter two more than once.) While many record collectors hold fast to the belief that Van Gelder's Blue Notes were intended solely for mono distribution, Kassem points to the handwriting on each open-reel master that clearly states that the recordings are stereo.

"They were released in mono because stereo albums cost a dollar more," he says. "They felt there wouldn't be enough interest to justify the effort. We're not going to keep anyone from enjoying the full sound by collapsing the soundstage and hiding their wonder. There aren't many—10 to 20—people on the planet who have heard these master tapes. Any critic who says that the only good Blue Note is a mono Blue Note hasn't heard the masters."


As Hoffman plays a reel, he points to the oscilloscope on the board, which shows energy in the center of the soundstage. This is easily confirmed by listening. While on most tapes some instruments are positioned closer to the left and right mikes, most place the piano and bass in the center. To Hoffman, that sounds as if you're in a really good seat in a club. And while the ever-secretive, 85-year-old Van Gelder has often insisted that he didn't pay attention to such things, Hoffman believes that you can't get sound like this without really trying.

"We give audiophiles the master-tape sound, not the original Blue Note LP sound. You can't tell me that the audiophile wants to hear sound as it was compromised back then. You'd have to play it on a Zenith. They were very scared to leave too much bass, treble, or dynamic range on the record, because the tonearm would jump out of the groove. Nowadays, we can finally accomplish what Rudy Van Gelder would have only dreamed of hearing 40 years ago."

Missteps and Triumphs
To learn more about the Blue Note masters, I call Blue Note authority Michael Cuscuna, at Mosaic Records, in Stamford, Connecticut. Cuscuna has handled all Blue Note reissues for EMI since 1984, supplying tapes from the vault in Los Angeles.

In the 1970s, when Cuscuna began working with Blue Note, one of the engineers at the United Artists studios noticed that oxidation had begun to cause flaking on some of the masters recorded in the 1960s. After convincing the powers-that-were to make new, second-generation "masters" from some of the masters, those originals were scrapped. The substitutes used the early Dolby process, which results in a loss of detail and openness. Of 400 Blue Note masters recorded between 1950 and 1970, no one now knows for certain how many are original masters and how many are second-generation copies. (While I'm at AcousTech, Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman identify a copy by its inferior sound, set it aside, and inform Chad Kassem that he must remove it from his reissue list.)

"When 12" LPs came out," Cuscuna explains, "labels needed to build up large catalogs in order to make money. There was a massive amount of recording activity in all genres. An amazing amount of independent labels popped up to record massive amounts of modern jazz during its heyday in New York City. Rudy Van Gelder's studio, which was owned by Alfred Lion, became the studio of choice.

"Other labels would hire musicians to go into studios without planning and rehearsals. Alfred invested in planning and paid pre-rehearsals, and carefully formed ensembles. By doing so, he inspired musicians to create a lot of original compositions that became standards." He cites, as only three of many examples, Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," and John Coltrane's "Blue Train."

"If you're an improvising musician and you haven't rehearsed, you're going to play your best solo while everyone is still working out the tune. By the time everything is worked out, everyone is burned out. Alfred's approach created a more lasting body of work. It wasn't as much a case of whom they recorded as their methodology, which drew out the best possible performances."

Master Masterers
As much as I'd love to relay all kinds of anecdotes about the challenges Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray encounter during the mastering sessions, I witness none. These boys know the sound of the facility and the Van Gelder masters like the backs of their hands. Decisions are made fast, almost as second nature. For Kenny Dorham's Whistle Stop, they discover plenty of headroom, so they add a bit of excitement. (Earlier in the day, they treated other titles differently.) I leave for a while to tour the facility, and by the time I return they're working on another tape. On the second day of my visit, the final session ends early.

"When Kevin and I work in this room," says Hoffman, "I basically focus on the sound I want to hear. I rely on Kevin to perfectly translate that sound to the phonograph record. Kevin has been cutting records since he was in high school, and he knows what he's doing. We know each other's moves; we finish each other's sentences. Our spouses are amused by it."

Back home a month later, I unpack some test pressings Chad Kassem has sent me. Though I know I can never dare look directly into Mikey's eyes until I own a record-cleaning machine, my Clearaudio turntable, solidly supported by a Symposium platform, is equipped with a brand-new The Voice cartridge from Soundsmith that's raring to sing. Bybee Golden Goddess speaker bullets—you need not genuflect—bring out all the detail that the rest of the chain can possibly reproduce. Playing side B of Dexter Gordon's Dexter Calling…—I have no list of track titles—I hear the most realistic-sounding drums ever reproduced by my system. It's as though I'm sitting at the point of creation, experiencing the same high that brought such gifted musicians together as one. Steve Hoffman, Kevin Gray, Chad Kassem, and Don MacInnis have done Rudy Van Gelder and his Blue Note artists proud.



Ween – La Cucuracha

La Cucuracha is Ween's unbelieveable 11th release, their first LP of new material exclusively through their own Chocodog label. It's one disc, black, 180 gram vinyl in a gate-fold sleeve, recorded to two inch 24 track tape, produced and mixed by Andrew Weiss.

I'm not saying you'll immediately like this on first listen, even as a Ween fan, it's like every other release… it will sneak up on you and become an epic journey of a thousand albums. But like with my introduction to Ween through 'Push the little daisies' from Pure Guava, it's not meant to be heard one song at a time, it won't make any sense. This is a lifetime of work exploring sounds and genres, appreciating the unappreciated, kicking the dead horse one more time, finding something interesting in a dance club hit or in the legacy of square dance hoedowns.

With this album they are continuing to record on a more mature produced path, leaving the ultra low-fi 4-track, pitch shifted vocals sound behind them in favor of a barn turned permanent studio and room-fulls of equipment. How else can they explore and deconstruct every music genre, without every tool available on the planet?

La Cucaracha begins appropriately enough with Fiesta, and legendary smooth jazz alto saxophonist David Sanborn who ended up being a ween fan and after being contacted by the appreciative band and agreeing to contribute insane saxophone solos to this track and 'Your Party'.
The unapologetic electronic horn sound works to immediately ground this in it's ridiculousness. There are the showoff sounds and presets on any keyboard or drum machine, the demo settings that just make you think, 'Who the fuck would use this sound?', it's so loaded in a particular time or place. These are the building blocks for Weens exploration. Overall Fiesta is just an instrumental south of the border quirky number until somewhere towards the end the recorded track is compressed for a second back in on itself exponentially into just electronic noise, and we're reminded again who we're dealing with.

The thing that saves every song and Ween itself from complete novelty is the tongue in cheek attitude of their seriousness. You can just hear the joke behind every line, you can picture every scene from every video. But all this genre hopping and homage is a testament to their musicianship, their appreciation of music history and at the same time deconstructing it piece by piece.

They can be a guilty pleasure… you'd have to have real balls to blast 'Friends' while driving around the neighborhood, it's so sickeningly techno and sincere, and the lyric You're the friend that I've been searching for out of context won't make sense to anyone not in on the joke. I have to think this was a result of some kind of bet about making a techno dance track that's the polar opposite of the usual subject matter of getting a piece on the dance-floor. Instead they're looking for a friend.

The music drives the lyrics, it starts with a drum track of unused sounds, or a random guitar riff, the resulting mood will determine what they're going to sing about. They are a perfect example of the long tail theory, it's not for everyone. But every piece of Ween ephemera is battled over on eBay daily. They have more than their share of of people willing to fund their musical experimentation well into the days of greatest hits and interview picture discs, especially in the form of vinyl.

'My Own Bare Hands' is that fist pumping classic rock track complete with a spaced out guitar solo. Channeling Motorhead they're yelling about all the things they can do with their bare hands. Of course it's not long before Ween goes to that blatant place of political incorrectness with 'I will be your lawn mower and cut your fucking grass… suck my fucking dick!'. But isn't that what all of this type of cock rock is getting at? Let's cut to the chase, it's to get chicks. There's no big thought behind this, they don't want to work day jobs, they can't do everything else. Ween can conjure up these narratives behind every song.

On 'The fruit man' they have this tendency to include a reggae/dub inspired track on nearly every album, and as a genre I'm really ignorant in, it's always the least enjoyable. I can appreciate the surface elements, but most of the joke is lost on me. It's funny that they use these un-reggae sounds of huge kick drum hits, glass breaking, whistles, scrolling through the unused factory presets on the drum machine, hitting every one. All I can imagine is that it's the most challenging to try to hit some kind of honesty, to distill it down to it's essential elements.

The ballad doesn't even stand a chance on the next track, 'Spirit Walker', the closing track on the B-side. A wavering electronic filtered vocal line plays over this acoustic somber slow dance feel complete with flute/synth accompaniment. It's heartfelt and completely ludicrous at the same time.

On the B side 'Woman and Man' is the standout epic track starting out with a dead on Bowie influenced layered, high off pitch vocal story.
The theme is so insanely all encompassing, the beginning of humankind, starting from nothing however many millions of years ago, and it takes all 10 minutes to work through the primal relationships of the creation of women and men, all through this 70's progressive rock journey.
from rib and from monkey
half became the whole
a race of man and woman

An unironic bongo solo with brushed snare and cowbell drives the song into full jam mode. Just as the hokey intro is over we're driven into a sickening Santana solo that echoes endlessly. These are the kind of lyrics you know some stoned guy is saying 'Seriously, they are totally right, it's like the ocean is just covering all this land…' You know you're not supposed to take this seriously, but Ween is forcing you to.

The final nail in the coffin of this cultural music parody is 'Your party' supposedly inspired by wanting to write a song about where they are as older established musicians with families and the dinner parties they find themselves at. 'Woman and Man' ends with machine gun fire by a crashing ocean that leads into this mumbling party scene.
there were candy and spices
and tricolored pastas…
We had the best time at your party
the wife and I thank you very much
David Sanborn's constant saxophone solos scream sincere 1980's slow jazz LA law pastel turtleneck nightmare and you're transported back to this 80's excess of neon and marbled mirrors.

Ween is drawing from a vast library of thankfully forgotten sounds, but it isn't all built on popularizing the unknown, more like acknowledging the inherent stupidity in entire genres music. The popular songs that are taken for granted. The sounds that have built in so many other meanings. Ween never stoops to make fun or parody an individual but an entire lifestyle associated with a song. A commentary on modern smooth jazz or dance reggae dub. They simultaneously destroy it completely and make it relevant somehow. These are the discarded riffs from other bands as too derivative. They're is picking through the junk-pile and making it something, willing it back into existence.
They are the masters of creating a mood and really selling it if you are willing to accept the sheer outrageousness of it all.