Friday, November 27, 2009

Michael Fremer Album Review

I am very proud to continue our new feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.

Beck (new reissue)
Sea Change

DGC/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-3082 180g LPs/CD
Produced by: Nigel Godrich
Engineered by: Nigel Godrich
Mixed by: Nigel Godrich
Mastered by: Rob M. LoVerde

Review by: Michael Fremer

Music - 10
Sound - 11

Sea Change, Beck's late-afternoon, mid-tempo reverie of an album, harkens back to the great old days of painstaking production, carefully drawn arrangements, and a concern for—and love of—sound and musical textures for their own sakes. Tempi are languid, notes are caressed, and gaping atmospheric spaces welcome listeners willing to be drawn in.

While the sumptuous sonic and musical concept is far removed from his two-turntables-and-a-microphone collage days, live-in-studio references to classic records abound. You'll hear Beck's iPod mind sampling favorite tunes and layering freshly made elements from them into the musical mixes. A Led Zep string reference here, a Mike Garson "Alladin Sane"-era Bowie piano there, even lessons learned from George Martin's arrangements for The Beatles. And always lurking in the mix is Nick Drake, especially on the chilling "Round the Bend." "Sunday Sun" sounds like Beck's tribute to Brian Wilson.

There's an unmistakable melancholic L.A. vibe to Sea Change, as the late-afternoon gold runs from a comfortable glow to an unnerving pre-eve desolation. If you've lived there or still do, you know exactly what the light and air catch as the sun sinks, and Beck captures the city's beauty and the chilly isolation brilliantly in the sweeping ascending violins and digging celli, accented by producer Nigel Godrich's always tasteful electronica.

I've been told that much of the multi-instrument recording at Ocean Way was done live (as in the old days) instead of being individually tracked. There's an organic completeness to the production and a sense of communication between the musicians that makes it sound that way, and you can almost imagine the core group—including Joey Waronker and two Jellyfish alumni, Roger Manning and the hugely underrated Jason Falkner—leaving the darkness of the studio for breaks on the bright, bleak Sunset Boulevard sidewalk. (Falkner's brilliant solo albums on Elektra and the Sony-issued Bedtime with The Beatles are well worth finding.)

Detractors complaining that the album is "boring" are simply not allowing themselves to be drawn into its atmospheric spell (or they're listening on boomboxes). You need a system that can communicate the textures, explore the depths, and reveal the harmonic and spatial complexities embedded within the cinematic arrangements. Listening to this production as an MP3 would be like eating a gourmet meal with a head cold.

As for Beck's vocal performance, he occasionally strives to reach beyond his emotional and vocal range, delivering an empty monotone where he intends a subtle communication. But that's easily overlooked as he connects more than he misses, and his stretching on the vocals adds it’s own drama.

When first reviewed on in February of 2003 as an excellent sounding SACD that included an Elliot Scheiner surroud sound mix, I wrote “ It's a shame that such a brilliant sonic production, probably all-analog, will never see vinyl.”

That was wrong on two counts. First of all it did get a limited vinyl issue years ago but that double LP doesn’t come remotely close to what the Mo-Fi guys have done here.

The recently issued Mo-Fi CD is extremely fine too but “for CD.” I’ve been playing this record for years and now, finally, what I long expected was in the recording is revealed. YIKES THIS IS AWESOME! The string sound is luxurious, the bass extension deep and full, the dimensionality extreme and the atmospherics full 1080P high definition.

All of the care that went into the recording, all the of electronic textures, bell-toned percussion and low level detail all of the gestures, grand and tiny have finally been let out. The SACD is very good. The Mo-Fi CD is outstanding and the original vinyl was very good, but this is insane.

This is sinfully luxurious sound and meticulous production that's guaranteed to overwhelm your senses and best of all its in service of a superbly musical and thoughtful set of tunes.

As Beck sings in the opener, "Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin." Sea Change is a finely crafted, thoughtful, and enduring album. Highly recommended. No, that’s too eqivocating. This album is mandatory.

Cheapo Records Thrives in the Age of Digital Downloads

It's always nice to read that there are still record stores that are doing well, long live vinyl!

By Kate Spalla

CAMBRIDGE –Cheapo Records sits on Massachusetts Ave in a sea of chain stores such as Payless Shoe Source and Blockbuster Video, which tower over the 55-year-old record shop, but Cheapo has been there since 1954.

At a time when CD sales are struggling and digital music is increasingly popular, Cheapo Records in Central Square survives in a long and narrow shop front filled with handwritten signs and endless aisles of cardboard boxes stuffed with dust covered vinyl records.

“We try to keep everything cheap, that’s why we’re called cheap-o!” an employee, Mark, told a customer. Even so, it’s atypical that such a store could survive among an era where digital downloads are so accessible and record players are increasingly obsolete.

“We’re fortunate a lot of our customers come here for the vinyl records,” said Rob Thomas, manager of Cheapo Records. Thomas said in recent years, DVD and CD sales have dropped. Thomas attributes the drop to modern technology such as CD burning.

“Music has become so disposable with things like the internet and illegal downloading,” said Allison Fogel, a sophomore at Tufts University and Cheapo customer. “Buying something as solid and sometimes beautiful as a record is acknowledging that music really means something.”

Records may be archaic to most teenagers, but there has been an up rise in the number of college students who prefer to buy record players and collect records because music has been diluted by the digital age, Thomas said.

“We get a good mix of old die-hards who have been coming here every week for years, and now new kids who are really into punk and hard core,” Thomas said.

Still, Thomas observes more and more buyers who choose to support their favorite artists with a bulky vinyl over iTunes and CDs which have the same artwork.
“I think old records still have a different sound, and maybe it’s a little scratchier, but there’s culture that’s passed on through records,” said Trey Walton, a 27-year-old Cheapo customer who came to visit from Atlanta, Ga.

The customers and the employees in the store share a mutual love for record collecting. The employees chat among each other with respect for the records.

The environment Cheapo Records encompasses is part of the neighborhood. The Middle East Club across the street brings more customers into Cheapo and they stay open late after shows on occasion.

The demographic in Central Square has changed since Cheapo first opened, and Thomas said that many customers who can’t afford to live there anymore still come by. A newfound love for records in the wake of dissent with the digital age has kept Cheapo Record alive.

“We have such a good community,and we have for years,” Thomas said.


Music News & Notes

Bankrupt former Radio 1 DJ Mike Read to sell music collection

A fully loaded, 1950s Rock-Ola jukebox belonging to the former Radio 1 DJ Mike Read, will go up for auction next week as he sells off a record and music memorabilia collection worth more than $1.6 million.

His 120,000 vinyl records spanning five decades are being billed as the most defining collection of its kind, while his memorabilia includes personal letters from the world’s top artists.

Read, 62, dubbed the Simon Cowell of the 1970s and 1980s, was forced to hand over his collection after he was declared bankrupt for the second time in February.


Could Ronnie Wood's 20-year-old girlfriend be letting the cat out of the bag on a 2010 tour by the Rolling Stones? Britain's Sun says that Ekaterina Ivanova has been saying more than she should.

"She's not supposed to talk about it, things haven't been finalized but she couldn't resist telling a few friends."

Wood has also told the British papers that he has been in contact with Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts which could also be an indication of an impending road trip. Better have a cardiologist or two handy....


Crue Taking Time Off

Motley Crue is taking 2010 off to work on individual projects. Lead Vince Neil told Fox News:

"I go out and do my solo record and tour (and) I’ve got a book coming out. 2010 is my year. I’m writing about all the stuff you don’t know about.” Well. isn't that special...


No Eurythmics Reunion

Annie Lennox say we shouldn't be looking for a Eurythmics reunion:

"I'm not really keen on comebacks. Eurythmics was an incredible thing. When I look back on that work, I feel very satisfied by it but I'm not in that headspace now. I'm 54, I have teenagers. What's always been important to me is not struggling to keep going round the same groove. I want to go forwards, and I want to take risks."