June 2, 2012

Playlist Week of 6-02-12

The Mars Volta - Vinyl

* Miles Davis: The Complete On The Corner Sessions (d.2) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Miles Davis: Pangaea (d.1) (CBS/Sony 2CD)
* Weather Report: Mysterious Traveler (Columbia LP)
* Weather Report: Black Market (Columbia LP)
* John Zorn’s Naked City: Naked City (Nonesuch/Elektra CD)
* UYA: Demo Tape (1989) (Cassette>CDR)
* Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Unheard Voices (NuVoid CDR)
* Johnny Cash: Original Sun Singles ’55-’58 (Sun/Sundazed 2LP)
* George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (d.1)(GN/Capitol 2CD)
* George Harrison: Cloud 9 (Dark Horse/Capitol CD)
* Paul McCartney: Band On The Run (Capitol LP)
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Mercury/Sundazed 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA 2-20-85 (SBD 2CDR)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Caravan: In The Land Of Grey And Pink (DVD) (Deram/Decca 2CD/DVD)
* Camel: Camel (MCA/Universal CD)
* Camel: Mirage (Deram/Universal CD)
* Camel: (Music Inspired By) The Snow Goose (Decca/Universal CD)
* Camel: Moonmadness (Decca/Universal CD)
* Peter Gabriel: Peter Gabriel 1 [a/k/a “Car”] (Atco LP)
* Phil Collins: Hello, I Must Be Going! (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Tom Petty: Wildflowers (Warner Bros. 2LP)
* The Style Council: My Ever Changing Moods (Geffen LP)
* Japan: Oil On Canvas (Virgin 2LP)
* Prefab Sprout: Two Wheels Good (Epic LP)
* Talk Talk: The Colour Of Spring (EMI LP/DVD)
* Talk Talk: Spirit Of Eden (Parlophone/EMI LP/DVD)
* Talk Talk: Laughing Stock (Polydor CD)
* Meat Puppets: Out My Way (SST EP)
* Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador 2LP)
* Robert Pollard: Mouseman Cloud (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Capsized! (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Wilco: Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (Nonesuch 4LP)
* The Mars Volta: Octahedron (Warner Bros. CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet (Warner Bros. 2LP)
* Porcupine Tree: The Sky Moves Sideways (KScope 2CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Signify/Insignificance (KScope 2CD) (†/‡)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner 2LP/CD/BD)
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End Records CD) (†/‡)
* Kyuss: Blues For The Red Sun (Dali/Elektra CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore 2LP)
* YOB: The Illusion Of Motion (Metal Blade CD)†
* The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)


A few months ago, I wrote about Noctourniquet, the most recent album by The Mars Volta, and I ranted on at length about the horribly compressed sound of the CD, which renders this otherwise delightful music virtually unlistenable—at least for me. It sounds best in the car, where its near-total lack of dynamic range allows it to be always audible despite road-noise, even at interstate speeds. And that’s about the only place I can listen to it—but even there I keep reaching to turn down the volume. Blech! I speculated back in March that an LP version might sound better: because of the medium’s physical limitations, an LP could never be mastered as ear-bleedingly loud as the CD.

Well, the vinyl edition finally arrived this week and I decided to pick it up when I saw it at my favorite local record store. And, indeed, the two-LP set sounds much better than the compact disc in all the usual ways: far less compression and hard limiting, smoother textures and a warmer overall presentation and, as an added bonus, the pressings are flat and remarkably quiet for such weirdly-colored vinyl. Much unlike the execrable CD, you can crank it up nice and loud without giving yourself a headache. Hooray! The packaging is also super-deluxe with a thick-spine jacket, 3-D printed innersleeves (w/3-D glasses included) and an exclusive poster. A typically perverse touch is the square label on the discs which appears to be ready to knock your delicate stylus back across the record at the end of every side. Fear not! The last track has a silent “locked groove” which prevents the cartridge (and disc) from meeting its doom. Clearly a labor of love, the vinyl edition of Noctourniquet is an artistic triumph, both as a physical object and the music contained therein. Definitely worth every penny—and likely to increase in value when it inevitably goes out of print.

That’s all well and good. I love vinyl; I really do, despite its obvious imperfections. However, there is still no excuse for a CD to sound so bad. I have no doubt these LPs were cut from a digital master—so why do they sound so much better than the CD? I don’t know the precise answer to that question but I do believe it is symptomatic of the record industry’s larger problems. Sure, it’s great that the LP edition of Noctourniquet sounds as good as it does and, since I am a fanatical record collector, I’m as happy as anyone about the vinyl renaissance that seems to be burgeoning around us these days. But let’s face it: most people do not even have turntables and do not want to fiddle with an archaic and fragile medium like vinyl records. And I don’t blame them! It takes a lot of effort and not a little bit of expense to make an LP sound its best. Moreover, LPs are marketed these days as high-priced luxury goods which are out of reach of the average working stiff and just not worth it to even the most well-heeled. Only crazy people like me buy vinyl records! I’m happy to have these LPs, but most listeners will be stuck with a poor facsimile—which is a shame since this is probably The Mars Volta’s most accessible album to date and should be heard by everyone in all its sonic glory (such as it is). Like it or not, it’s a digital world and there is no prima facie reason it has to sound like crap!

 Just sayin’…


Jean K said...

Yes - the loudness wars - we're being digitally brickwalled! I've actually stopped buying new release CDs unless I can trust the source. It really shouldn't be this difficult to get some dynamics. I was talking to a veteran mastering engineer a couple of weeks back and he thought that as far as the mainstream was concerned we are in a disastrous period for recorded music. We could be in a bizarre situation when in 25 years time people will be trying to turn some of this landfill back into music.

Sam said...

I hear you on the loudness thing. I guess it doesn't affect me as much because I don't buy that much new music...just not in my budget universe these days...the newest thing I bought, the SMiLE Sessions, sounds incredible and is not too loud, but that's an exception and besides it's a reissue (of sorts). But on other, newer stuff it can really be annoying. And you're right, it doesn't have to be that way! We are often at the mercy of idiots.

Here are my lists for last week:

Playlist 2012-06-04:

*Elliott Carter: CD compilation, disc 4
*Daniel Barbiero and Jimmy Ghaphery: Hermes’ Labyrinth
*Boris Bobby Jr.: 2012-04-22 (wav)
*Anthony Braxton: Quintet (New York) 1975 (BL014)
*Anthony Braxton: Duo (Belfort) 1985 (BL021)
*Anthony Braxton: Trio (Wuppertal) 1989 Part 1 (BL022)
*Colla Parte: 2011-11-11 “Tenebrae” (wav)
*John Coltrane: 1965-03-28 Village Gate, NYC (CDR) selections
*Duke Ellington: The Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA-Victor Recordings (disc 5)
*Globe Unity Orchestra: Berlin + Donaueschingen 1966/67 (CDR)
*Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years (disc 2)
*Joe Henderson: Black Is the Color
*London Jazz Composer Orchestra & George Lewis: 1991-03-22 London (CDR)
*New Loft: 2012-04-30 “Making Me Drink” (wav)
*New Loft: 2012-04-30 “Making Me Drink” (wav)
*New What: 2012-05-12 Pyramid Atlantic, Silver Spring MD (CDR)
*Alexander von Schlippenbach: Globe Unity
*Sun Ra: Disco 3000: The Complete Milan Concert 1978 (Art Yard) “Disco 3000”
*Henry Threadgill & Zooid: 2010-02-12 Jazz Gallery, NYC (CDR) disc 2
*Willie Colon and Ruben Blades: Siembre
*Grateful Dead: 1971-11-07 Harding Theater, SF (CDR) “Dark Star”
*Grateful Dead: 1973-03-16 Uniondale, NY (CDR) “Dark Star > Truckin’”
*Grateful Dead: 1973-03-21 Utica NY (CDR) “Dark Star”
*Grateful Dead: 1973-03-24 Philadelphia (CDR) “Truckin’ > Jam > Dark Star”
*Jimi Hendrix: The Cry of Love (side 2)
*Major Organ and the Adding Machine: Major Organ and the Adding Machine
*Mr. Mustard: The Beatles Remixes
*Prince: Work It 2.0 (boot CDR) Vol. 8 (discs 31, 32, 33)
*White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
*Robert Wyatt: Cuckooland

Reading List 2012-06-04:

*Norman, Philip. John Lennon: The Life (started)
*Crumb, R., and David Zane Mairowitz. R. Crumb’s Kafka (started/finished)
*Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land (reread/started/finished)
*Dirda, Michael. Bound to Please (selections/finished)
*Lee, Stan, and Jack Kirby. Fantastic Four Omnibus, Vol. 1 (finished)
*Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, transl. James E. Falen (in progress)
*Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, transl. Vladimir Nabokov (in progress)