Friday, August 11, 2017

World Wide Woozle episode #422

I've finally completed my longish review of the 5.1 surround version of The Beatles' , Sgt Pepper's album. You can read it here if you like.

Glen Campbell died this week. This is the last song he ever recorded and I think it says it all.

Glen Campbell - I'm Not Gonna Miss You - https://youtu.be/U8TsAh-zYFI

The passing of Glen made me rather pensive for a while. This next song always comes to mind if I'm feeling down or melancholy. My sadness wasn't infinite thankfully. There's beauty in solitude and serenity at times and that's what this track reminds me of.

Crowded House - Private Universe (live) - https://youtu.be/aGwGi49Lvh0

And now for something completely different. Years ago, a student gave me a CD to listen to. I dug it, played it a few times and then forgot about it....until last week. Thinking about musicians that use recording and soundscapes as an instrument must've lit up some weird neural pathway because it led me to this...and to a guy who I had no idea had been the singer for the Steve Vai band years ago! If you like bands such as Pink Floyd, Dream Theater or Queensryche then you should enjoy this.

Devin Townsend Project - Stormbending - https://youtu.be/YhcoLO8vZZU

DJ ZedBoots recommended this next one to me. I was a bit unsure as I really quite dislike very obviously auto-tuned vocals which the female singer in this song has. Not to judge a band by one song, I sought out some live tracks and an acoustic performance. Lo and behold, she can sing. Ditch the auto-tune ma'am, your voice is just fine. I'll play the acoustic version as I quite like it but if you want to rock out then it's here.

Skillet - Feel Invincible (live/acoustic) - https://youtu.be/C_lgkYynZcE

Choosing a band name is always a challenge and can lead to many fallings out and some disasters! When the members of Death Cab For Cutie chose their moniker from a song by the Bonzo Do Doo-dah Band I wonder if they thought that it sounded like something that a really, really heavy metal band might select? For years I've not listened to this band as I thought that they were in the screamo metal genre. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But the story gets more amusing. I heard a band called Panic At The Disco covering a song and I thought to myself, that guy can really sing. Later in the week I transposed band names and ended up listening to Death Cab For Cutie and here I am loving their work! They are not at all metal or anything like that. I'd imagine that they are influenced by artists such as Daniel Johnston, Wilco, Weezer, The Decemberists, Neil Young and maybe even one of my faves, Winterpills. Today I was at home recovering from a stubborn cold and sinus infection so I listened to three or four of their albums. You should too. 

Death Cab For Cutie - Marching Bands of Manhattan - https://youtu.be/be2LvYXOcSI

DJ Guz has been working at getting me interested in some electronic music as well as some more esoteric stuff. His recommendation of the band Snarky Puppy was excellent. I'm returning the favour this week with a brand new release that I heard on Double J radio and quite enjoyed. This has that thick, fuzzy synth and bass combination that really works with a sub-woofer.

Goldfrapp - Systemagic - https://youtu.be/YGdMxxpeljU 

Righto, so it looks like we Australians might soon have the option to vote yes or no in a non-binding postal vote that our elected representatives may choose to simply ignore. Surely $122m can be better spent somewhere else? However, if we must vote then let's embrace democracy and send the politicians our views. I genuinely hope that the opinion of the majority populace, which is apparently quite clear, is then acted upon appropriately. Peace, love, understanding and all that really does matter. And it goes both ways (thank you Nerida!). 

Rollins Band - Do It - https://youtu.be/AJvFM0NVZnE?t=4m22s

So, we played our last gig and it was loud, energetic and very sweaty. That seemed like a fitting finale. There's a few photos on the band Farcebook page if you fancy a look. It's been a real trip being in a band that played with such passion. I really thought that our penultimate show at Vivaldi's was hard to top but last Saturday night, although only one set, was definitely a high point. Look out for more music from me before too long.

Bryan Adams - Kids Wanna Rock - https://youtu.be/oYi2lqG2u9I?t=29s

Hoo roo,
Rob 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sgt Pepper's in 5.1 surround...any good?

The short version:
  • It's great,
  • There's a ton of stuff you've probably never noticed before,
  • I enjoyed it a LOT, and
  • If you like the Beatles at all it's worth it, even if you have to go to someone else's house to listen.
The long version (and it's definitely long):

5.1 surround sound has never interested me in terms of listening to music. Movies are a completely different kettle of fish in my opinion. For me, a band has always been about what you can see and hear coming from in front of you and many live gigs are mixed in mono anyway. Upfront I'll say that this experience hasn't changed my thoughts about surround music. Clarity is one thing and an immersive surround audio experience is something else.

The gear
For those that care, we listened on H's rather amazing 5.1 system which was professionally installed by the good folks at Duratone in Phillip. They know their stuff and spent ages at H's house making sure that it was all setup to perfection. It's an Advanced AL24 Processing Denon amp with two Dynaudio speakers at the front, two PSB speakers at the back, a Jamie speaker at the front centre and an REL subwoofer too. 

Mix choices
The media is the 5.1 surround mix supplied on BluRay in the Sgt Pepper's Super-Deluxe Box Set. It comes in high resolution 96 kHz, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. There's a stereo mix too which we didn't listen to as it wasn't really the point. We tried both 5.1 options and the fact is that there are subtle differences. At times one was more crisp than the other which had a smooth warmth. At other times there was better clarity that I noticed especially with some guitar parts. The truth is that both DTS and Dolby sound different and it's going to be very much a personal preference.

Track by track
I'm not commenting (much) on the merits of the songwriting or musicianship. What these notes contain is what I heard and felt.

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: this sounded like a live rock band to me. The stereo separation, as is evident in the whole album, meant that there were snippets of instrumentation, especially guitar lines that I'd never heard before. I guess that being a guitar player that stood out for me. I wanted to hear this track over and over it was that good. 

With A Little Help From My Friends: clarity aside, the big thing for me in this track was that the backing vocals sounded completely different to what I had remembered. There was simply more of them, more depth and whilst it didn't surround you, it felt as if it was all over me in an almost liquid effect.

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - There is guitar doubling that made me stand up and take notice and the vocals in the chorus seem much stronger. In the past when the lyric went to, "taxis appear on the shore", I always felt as if something was ever so slightly out of sync. This was no longer an issue.

Getting Better - in this track, which I've always enjoyed, the vocals were spacious and perhaps that's a function of some very subtle use of the entire 5.1 spectrum. The stand out was that the guitars were so clear that I felt that I'd have a good chance of identifying the type of instrument being played - it was that clear.

Fixing A Hole - this is the first song in which I really noticed the prominence of the bass and drums in the mix. Other than that it felt like almost like being at a soundcheck at the opera.

She's Leaving Home - I really enjoyed the orchestral bits and where each instrument was located in the mix as they were absolutely everywhere.

Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite - I think that this was the biggest revelation for me on the album. Who knew that it was propelled so hard by drum and bass? There's a wonderful madness to this track that I'd never heard before; not even a hint. 

Within You Without You - like almost everything this sounds superb and the way that you want music to feel as well - like you're in the room with the band. I just don't like the song.

When I'm 64 - would this even get a spot on a rock album today? It's a moot point really as it did back in the day. What is revealed in this release is that it is pushed so hard by Paul and Ringo. Add to that the sublime clarinets and it's a hit! There's also a previously unnoticed guitar track panned hard left which is a real treat.

Lovely Rita - oh wow, this one was like the best garage band you've ever heard with a top shelf backing vocal group added.

Good Morning Good Morning - the low point for me if there has to be one. It lacked the dynamic range of previous tracks. Maybe it was all pushed a little too hard? It is, however, truly chaotic and as a low point it really isn't all that low.

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise) - my favourite song on the album previously and nothing has changed. There's a piano hard left which sounds just brilliant and the drumming is just so much more in your face.

Overall, this was like being at a live gig where the sound gets fuller and louder as the show goes on. I found the 5.1 surround effect to be subtle in most places, very subtle. Once in a while something would pop up behind you in the listening vantage point but it didn't make a huge difference. What's good about this version of a classic album is that the clarity, across the whole frequency range, is just fabulous. If you've only ever been a casual Beatles listener then I'd recommend this thoroughly. For fans and tragics it is a must.

Going forwards I'm very keen to hear the mono mix. Why? Well because depending on who you believe, that's how the Beatles wanted it. Couple that with the fact that most people were listening on mono radios or portable, one speaker, turntables and it may just be a more authentic experience. When I know, I'll report back.

Rob



Friday, August 4, 2017

World Wide Woozle episode #421

Let me begin with an apology wrapped up in a public service announcement. This is a very long episode. You may need to take a break at some stage to avoid whatever the equivalent of bed sores are for blog readers. If you're listening through headphones or at high volume, remember to give your ears a break. After that, my advice is to fasten your seat-belt, ignore the person behind you and recline your seat, take a deep breath and join me on what Larry Mullen Jr. might describe as, "a musical journey".

Dixie Chicks - The Long Way Around - https://youtu.be/B1qgazBdKj8

I was fortunate enough recently to have the opportunity to listen to the remastered version of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in 5.1 surround sound. I'm happy for you to argue amongst yourselves about how The Beatles themselves intended the album to be heard. In the interest of balance, I will organise a mono copy to comment on sometime in the future. Very soon I will publish a track by track review of my thoughts for those of you masochistic enough to want to read that. Here today though I'll just make a few comments. The main one is that listening to a high quality audio source, through a great sound system is very much the way to experience this album in the 5.1 format. If you settle for even the high quality streaming option then you're missing out. I was unaware of how powerful the drum and bass work on the entire album is. If you'd told me previously that, "Being for the benefit of Mr Kite" was pushed hard by a pulsating and thunderous rhythm section I might've told you that you were dreaming. There's a wonderful clarity to the guitars on the title track that meant I heard nuances and even whole parts that I have never noticed before. The album seemingly gets louder as it goes on, almost like being at a really, really good live concert. If you want to feel as if you are actually standing in the middle of the studio as the Fab Four are playing these tracks then this is how to do it. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole album, even the sitar bits, and I will save my hard earned pennies to get the super-deluxe set that this is part of. Many thanks to Huitker Studios and also to the newly established 5.1 Appreciation Society for their part in making the review possible.

Billy Connolly - Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite - https://youtu.be/y02vRC0NZyg

I don't want to start an argument or offend anyone, but after Sgt Pepper's we listened to the surround mix of The Beach Boys', "Pet Sounds". Sure, it had some great moments but on the whole it was positively pedestrian in comparison to The Beatles. Not much tops this though...

Brian Wilson & Al Jardine - Sloop John B - https://youtu.be/eDZgl7H-coQ

Mick Jagger has two new tunes out. I quite like his solo stuff as a rule, it's generally more consistent than the Stones and also exposes more of his influences. The lyrics to these tracks are as important as his almost venomous delivery of them. Mick's quite adept at mixing up blues, disco and some drum 'n bass beats and it works.

Mick Jagger - England Lost - https://youtu.be/98gj0z0RkXE

I did a little bit of investigation into what critics and internet bores thought were really good pieces of music to listen to in 5.1 surround. I was surprised when the live AC/DC film, "Let There Be Rock; live in Paris" made one list. I've got it on DVD so I dragged it out for a look even though I don't have surround myself...yet. Apparently the band is pretty much in stereo and there are crowd noises etc. in the background. I guess that makes sense if the effect is to make you feel as if you are at the show. It's a good film but not a great concert. The guitars just don't sound right - a bit smooth and lacking AC/DC's bite. I'd recommend the film for fans but there are much more energetic and explosive performances on some of the live video box sets in production. You'd think that someone like Pink Floyd, Muse or even U2 would take full advantage of 5.1 surround in their live recordings....we'll see.

Pink Floyd - On The Turning Away (live) - https://youtu.be/GZLuDvN7W0c

Arcade Fire released a new album last week. I've not paid any attention to them in the past but for some reason I clicked a link and listened to this. I like it. It's fun, varied and if I was into dancing it would have me moving around easily. What's interesting is the very, very wide ranging reviews that it has garnered. They go all the way from those who love it to those who think that their ears will never recover from the distasteful experience. I'll have to listen to some of Arcade Fire's older stuff but, that notwithstanding, their most recent release, "Everything Now", is one I'll certainly check out again.

Arcade Fire - Everything Now - https://youtu.be/zC30BYR3CUk

I recently ordered some music to listen to and review. Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and among the CDs was a cassette. Yep, remember those? I blame the fact that I've been suffering with a dodgy sinus infection. Thankfully I do still have a rather nice cassette deck hooked up to the stereo out in the studio. The album in question is from Chuck Prophet who I played here a few weeks ago. I've been listening to and watching a whole lot of his stuff and it doesn't disappoint. I think he'd be really worthwhile seeing live although I imagine the chances of him coming to Australia are slim. For fans of Nick Lowe, Dylan and Elvis Costello.

Chuck Prophet - Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues - https://youtu.be/uDndukgT2t0

On Saturday night I'll play my last show with the band. Not because I'm leaving, but because it's the end for all of us. Plenty of other people have been in the group longer than me (I think I started in 2013) and as an entity it's more than 20 years old. All things must come to an end however and even though I'm sad about it I'll do my best to put on a stellar performance on Saturday night whilst enjoying myself. Touring up to Northern NSW, lounge room shows and of course rocking out at Vivaldi's are all highlights for me. The simple act of sitting in a lounge room or rehearsal space working on tunes can be stressful, exhilarating and fun all at once. It's why I like playing in a group so watch this space as I'll either find a new bunch of people to make noise with or shock you all with a solo release (it's coming along....). In my opinion you should always try and play with people who are musically more proficient than you. I've succeeded at that for years now and it motivates me to keep learning and practicing. If you're free on Saturday night you should come to the show. It's free and it'll be a lot of fun. Details on the band's Facebook page as always.

Warumpi Band/Midnight Oil - Blackfella Whitefella / The Dead Heart (live) - https://youtu.be/7N5ZsCGjUz0

I heard this next track during the week and it's a cracker. It's one I hadn't heard for ages and I'm not even sure that I ever knew who sang it. I've always thought that it sounded a bit like a cross between Weird Al, Tom Petty and Iggy Pop! I'm still not sure that I feel like an adult but....

The Pursuit of Happiness - I'm An Adult Now - https://youtu.be/PVL4GTeLN68

I've just taken delivery of Glen Campbell's final album, "Adios". As you probably all know if you've been paying attention in the past, Glen has Alzheimer's and no longer performs. There is an excellent film about his final recordings and tour which I have reflected on in the past. "Adios" is a good record, well worth a few dollars and it'll cause you to have a tear in your eye if you play it understanding the back story. But can I encourage you to look for Glen's album, "Ghost On The Canvas". It's the one that we all thought would be his last and to me anyway, it's far and away a better record than "Adios".

Glen Campbell - A Better Place - https://youtu.be/PVL4GTeLN68https://youtu.be/JMh78jF-fMQ

In this internet age we are very much spoiled with instant access to information, sounds and images. Sometimes though it is still a great feeling to indulge in a real book, LP or art display. AC/DC are releasing a coffee table book of photos from their most recent "Rock or Bust" world tour. I think I'll have to get my hands on a copy for the simple reason that Angus and I were there. I'm fairly sure it will have been their last outing and it'll be great to flick through. One of my prized possessions is the tour programme from The Razor's Edge World Tour which was the first time I saw them; load of cool photos and fun to look at every now and then. This book will make an ideal companion to that. By the way, the Dire Straits Brothers In Arms tour programme is sublime - thanks to DJ BeeDee for that one a long time ago!! Do bands still produce these? I don't know. I'm usually just focused on getting to my seat and remembering my hearing protection these days - ha ha!

AC/DC - Rock or Bust - https://youtu.be/_NdHySPJr8I

DJ GuzBox and I are waiting patiently to take delivery of my new guitar amplifier. You have to understand that it's being hand-made including custom coloured tolex and grille cloth so the wait will definitely be worth it. Tim knows his stuff in terms of sound so I'm hoping we can get together to record some sound clips of the glorious racket it makes for you all. For you guitar tech geeks out there, just put "VASE Tonesetter 18" into your favourite search engine.

Spinal Tap - The Majesty of Rock - https://youtu.be/RsOxgwF9LlM

Lots of TV shows use great music. I really like it when it's one you don't know that gets you foot tapping and head nodding. I had to track this tune down after hearing it playing during "The Blacklist" (Season 4 Ep 18). I hope you enjoy it. It's given me something else to explore and who knows where it might lead.

Fitz and The Tantrums - Dear Mr President - https://youtu.be/HrGq1Zmfnvc

Does anyone remember the British TV comedy, "It Ain't Half Hot Mum"? It probably can't be broadcast any more as a result of being quite politically incorrect. But if you're willing to accept that times have changed (mostly for the better), then there are some classic one liners and moments in the show that had me laughing a lot last weekend. Set in a British Army camp in India in WWII, it's essentially the story of a group of performers thrown together with an angry Royal Artillery Sergeant Major (is there any other type?) Look, it's better if you just watch a couple of short clips from a time when comedy wasn't all foul language and outrage.

Battery Sgt Major Williams - https://youtu.be/5y2WIOa7CEI


The advantage of using Spotify a lot is that their algorithms get better and better at recommending music based on my listening habits. That isn't to say that there aren't a few clangers but, to be fair, I rarely find myself having to skip tracks. These are a couple that popped up recently that I think are worthy of introducing you all to. Neither are artists that I know anything at all about, but both are very enjoyable. Probably more for listeners out there who like country or blues and roots music but I was listening to Slayer before these played and I didn't blink an eye.

Rodney Crowell -  Nashville 1972 - https://youtu.be/vhZtiNXnCXE

Israel Nash Gripka -  Louisiana - https://youtu.be/T-19bbgFn34

I used to write a lot about my family in this blog and it struck me that I've really been focused on the music recently. I'd hate you all to think that I was ignoring them or that they weren't important to me. The two young adults in my life are, in my opinion, very impressive. DJ ZedBoots is studying Paramedicine and regularly tells stomach churning stories involving IV drips, needles and gasses! She's also taken up karate, turned 21 and been on the TV. DJ Bogler is living the dream in terms of snow. He's working hard as a snowboarding instructor and then ripping up the slopes on his days off! It isn't long before he's off to Canada though for more of the same. Meanwhile he continues to love his Mum, his dog and his car. As for DJ Al-ee-sunshineofmylife; well she's started her own business, added some contracting work, can walk further than around the block and still loves kale. Good times.

The Ramones - We're A Happy Family - https://youtu.be/ZQlM59sDJVo

Finally, a shout out to DJ DJ. From all of the crew at HQ Woozle; we're very, very glad that you're OK my friend.

Lukim yu,

Rob