Category Archives: Philosonia

For the love of sound.

Contemplating Dreadful Experiences

We often forget that we are not the one who commits suicide but only the recipients of realizations relating to the other’s decision to leave us.  It’s easy to forget.

The media, as a general rule, does not report on suicides.  The reason for this is that when the media reports on suicide there is a corresponding uptick in the suicide rate.  We might think of this as a sort of permissions slip passed around the news rooms and living rooms of this Earth.  However, when the person who commits suicide is a celebrity there is little avoiding that reporting:  we all want to know what has happened, the consequences be damned!

Last night one of my all-time favorite bands lost a singer and friend.  Let us take a moment.

That angelic voice, you will note is silent.  This is the future echoed from the past.

Please take some time out to say hello to your old friends.  They may appreciate hearing from you.

Good-bye, Chris.


Separated at Birth? (John Mayall v Wilco)

I have long been interested in songs which have (in my admittedly warbled mind) a musical connection.  This is my first in what I hope to be a series of posts designed to offer these relationships to them Interwebzians like yourself.

First up I came across this old John Mayall song which reminds me of a Wilco song.  I’m not claiming thievery (any more than all art is on some level fantastic thievery); no, I’m merely saying these have a musical relationship which a casual observer might enjoy.


First we have John Mayall’s “I Still Care”.

Followed by Wilco’s “Hate It Here”.

After hearing a melodic connection I then noticed that the messages of the two songs have much in common.

Your opinions are welcome in the comments.


You Think My Backyard Is Cool, but John Elliott’s Backyards Rocks

My old friend Ian Parks moved to LA a few years back and set himself in a sweet little place with a cool courtyard.  He puts on music shows there calling it Frog Town.

Living in Seattle I’ve only been able to catch the bits that get posted to YouTube.  Regardless, after I listened to a performance by John Elliott I was impressed.  When I found out he was putting together an album I got in touch with him so I could check it out and maybe write  a review for both of my dedicated if mildly retarded readers.

"James is a writer of elegance and sophistication."
“James is a writer of elegance and sophistication.”

You like watching videos of live performances?  Ok.

So his new album is called Backyards and is published under John Elliott & the Hereafter.


If you are reading this early enough (and you are in the LA area), you can still catch the album release party (13 August 2011).  If you want to get tickets for the release party you can do so here.  It’s a show for adults so become an adult before you go, eh?

Long story short, this is that review.  Let me just cut to the important part: this is good music and should be bought, posthaste.  Zoomzoom, amigos!  Buy it here.

The audio and recording quality throughout is excellent.  The same holds for the musicianship and the mixing.  Coincidentally, John shares my distaste for the ubiquitous mp3 and what it has done for the expectations of quality in musical recordings.  That’s a good thing.

I’ll just talk about a few tracks that stood out for me.  You might end up getting more deeply into different tracks.  I might change my affiliations over time.  Music is like that.

The first track, called The American West, reminds me of one of my favorite albums of recent years.  If One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur isn’t already in your collection you are missing out, but American West both in musical feel and thematic scope would fit right into that set.  Good company, that.  (This is the same song as in the video above, but this version is with The Hereafter while the video is a solo performance with just John Elliott.)

The third track is a sweet up-tempo romp about winning and losing and the shape of life in sketches seen through timid fearless eyes.  It’s called “Daylight Saving”.  I like this song a lot and wonder if it’s going to be a hit one day.

“Losing Streak” is in the fourth slot and I don’t know what to say about it.  Is it a lamentation?  Could be.  Mellow for some I suppose but musically rich and in a way exciting.  Having listened to them several times now I have come to view these first three songs as a kind of trilogy: they each tell a different story but they have a commonality between and through them.

“I Think I Found a New Friend” (track five) has some nice backing vocals.  When I find out by whom I’ll update it here.

I thought “Over a Year” might have been influenced by The Edge (guitarist for U2), but even if it’s not it has some great guitar work and some punk influence, making it a nice lead into the next song.  As a side note, this seems to be the song from which the album title comes.

Track seven is a change of gears.  I’d maybe call it a punk jam calling upon the ghosts of The Clash and Joan Jett.  They called it “Cassius Clay”.

Now we come to quite a contrast to Cassius.  Track nine, called “So This Is When It Comes”, is what we might call a spacey ambient tribute to ambient space people everywhere.  Really shows the broad musical range of this album.

Eleven tracks in all.  A clandestine reference to Spinal Tap?  Who can say?

The final track, “Empty in the Heartland”, musically strikes me as a sort of reprise to the first track and thus makes for an excellent bookend for Backyards.  It’s the sort of song you can find yourself fading off into the land of dreams.  Sort of like at the end of a party.  When everyone else has already passed out and you’re looking around your own backyard yawning and thinking “look at all those fucking beer cans where’s my lawn chair?”.

If you’d like to follow The Hereafter, you can check out their site.  Oh, yeah; and buy it here.

Happy the end.


Decco Goes Ubu-Crazy

Not so long ago I wrote an article about my new tube pre-amp, the Decco.  It’s from this company called Peachtree Audio.  They make a new version called the Nova which is even cooler.  How I wish I was being paid for my talents…

(I am told the Decco has the better sounding DAC.)

Anyway, I really like the Decco.  The only thing is I was having some trouble figuring out how to get my Ubuntu systems to send the signal to the Decco via USB.  Until now.

Open the PulseAudio Volume Control (located at Applications —> Sound & Video).  Navigate to the Output Devices tab.  I had two entries here: Internal Audio and 0000 Analog Stereo.  I’m not clear why it’s called analog, but the 0000 is the one we are after.

Navigate to the Configuration tab.  Under Internal Audio change the Profile: drop-down to Off.  Make sure 0000 shows as stereo.

You’re done.

Rock out.

(If you are having troubles with PulseAudio in Ubuntu, you will want to take a look at this wonderful post.  If you are experiencing other audio/video issues in Ubuntu, here is an excellent and comprehensive post.)


The King of Poop is Dead

And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.  His heart exploded—during the opening song for Sesame Street.

Oh, that’s misdirected. It implies that I detest him for being a Creepy Uncle. I would like to emphasize that my judgement is one based upon my experience of his music.

The world of music has not diminished one iota with the death of Michael Jackson.  I know a lot of folks actually liked this mad-hatter, but even his best work—that with the Jackson Five—was quite pale compared with something like Sly and the Family Stone (take special note of Fresh).

He certainly made a lot of money for folks who already had a lot, but this in and of itself is not a very interesting accomplishment.  Even remarks on, “His incalculable musical legacy” (on their home page).  Well, duh.  My musical legacy is incalculable.  A musical legacy is not something subject to calculation.  True by default is hardly impressive.

I’m a little sad only because the prediction of the sagacious South Paw Jones (in his work “The Last Remaining Beatle”) did not come to pass:

Please don’t think me callous for speaking ill of a dead man.  My criticisms of his music were much more caustic while he was alive.

Remember: never trust a fishmonger with warm hands (where has he been keeping them?).

Later.  Sly Stone is calling me.

Music in the Now

I went out last night with a group of friends to see the premiere of a much anticipated documentary on music.  Of course, when one goes out to such an event, one has certain expectations.  Well, I had my first lecture in Unexpected 101.

When the bill says “documentary”, you can expect to be informed and educated on the subject at hand.  And surely there will be a well-formed argument supported by evidence bringing the viewer toward the philosophical position asserted by the thesis of the film-maker.  Who could doubt this?

Yet Icons Among Us delivers something which is so much more—and so much more powerful—than expected that one must feel an urge to liberate it from the constraints of that word, documentary: it is too small a cage for this size of bird.

I have been watching the progress of this release for some time now.  (I think it was seven years in the making.)  The final product has been divided up, so we consumers will have a few options for getting our feet wet.

There is a wealth of information on their official Web site.  In short, what I watched was a theatrical version of the work (coming in just under two hours).  There is also a four part (about four hours in total) series which is being aired at various dates on the Documentary Channel.  (If you visit their site I am told you can sign up to be notified about a DVD release which I imagine would contain both versions.  I have not yet confirmed this with a link.)

Icons Among Us is a philosophical coup de grâce putting into our minds the questions What is music?, What does it mean to be a musician?, and Who am I?  The philosophically weak-of-heart should consult a PhD before seeing this film due to the increased risk of metaphysical myocardial infarctions.  Everyone else, be prepared to enjoy some excellent music during the show, and know that you will want to have scheduled some musical listening after the show: a known side effect is increased musical hunger.  Good medicine.

This is exactly what my friends and I did.

Which brings us to part two of this review.  After the premiere (and after some noodles) we made our way over to Neumos for a show.  (I should take a moment to mention that Icons Among Us was shown as part of SIFF at the Egyptian thanks to various sponsors including DonQ‘s yummy rum.)

I’m really not sure how to talk about the daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra.  Do I describe them as an orchestra which incorporates hip-hop components (such as rappers and scratch), or are they more an MC/DJ combo backed by a full orchestra and a rhythm section?

I swear to you, I have never seen a more exuberant and at the same time technically exquisite violin solo.  Nor would I have been able to guess that an audience could respond to violin work with such powerful vocalizations.  Put plainly, this show (juxtaposed as it was with the documentary) was musical magic.

Ok, so go find a way to watch Icons Among Us and check out the daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra.

Life just keeps getting better.

Audio-Video Never Tasted So Good

So, a short while back I bought a new pre-amp for myself: Peachtree Audio’s Decco.  I bought the black one because it goes with anything and, well, black is the new black.  Nice little bit of gear.  Sounds great.  It will also act as an integrated amplifier if necessary.  And it has a great USB input and its own NOS DAC to go with it.

There was a problem with the first unit I took home, but the guys at the store were very quick to get me a replacement and that one has worked perfectly ever since.  (Not a significant problem mind you.  The volume knob wasn’t responding to the remote, probably the servo was offline or somesuch.  Nothing wrong with the functionality of the electronics themselves.)

At any rate, I was really happy with the service and the store where I bought the Decco and wanted to take a moment to talk about them.

They are called Resolution Audio : Video and they are located in Ballard (Seattle).  I get the privilege of walking down from time to time and listening the highest of highend gear.  Something very nice about listening to a set of speakers which are worth as much as a new car.  Surreal. (They died in this recession.  Very sad.  Peachtree is still very much alive though.)

At any rate, as you can surmise from the Decco they also sell highend gear for normal people.  Don’t feel as though you ought to be selling your VW to buy a set of sweet speakers—though if you do, please invite me over for a listen.  They have a lot of contemporary gadgety gear as well, like iPod docks for audio purists—or folks like me who use uncompressed wav files on their iPods and mp3 players.

They are, in the spirit of the season (read: recession), having a sale to encourage we consumers to do our parts for the economy.  This is not something they normally do (have a sale).  Let’s get booming.


Parks Produces, Plays

Well, my good friend and music producer Ian Parks (from An American Starlet) is back in the studio again—returning as a musician, singer, and songwriter.  He has put together a little tune of very large proportions.

Girl from Washington

What first strikes me in listening to this new song, called Girl from Washington, is the profound influence of Thin Lizzy.

(Here is an old interview of Ian and Jared Matt Greenberg.  They have changed quite a bit since then, but it’s a nice history of the band and their music.)

I’m not sure whether Ian will publish this song as An American Starlet or seek out a new identity.  It clearly represents a movement along a continuum, a progression in style.  What remains to be seen is whether he will work to make a break from the previous album releases (Sweet Country Lullabies From An American Starlet and The Duchess of Hazard are currently listed on Amazon).

By contrast, it is very apparent that Ian has not lost any of his songwriting shine.  He plays all the instruments on this track.  Wrote it, played it, and produced it.  I hope you enjoy listening to it.

Do you have an Starlet story?  Let’s hear about it.

String Theory

People often ask me about my String Theory of Musical Decline.

Okay, here it is in a nutshell. When a band adds strings to their music it is a kind of death knell. A band can be doing just fine all on their own but then at some point they feel whatever need must be fulfilled and they add some strings to their music.  Take a look at Zeppelin’s worst album: In Through the Out Door.  Now, saying Zeppelin’s worst album is rather like saying “Oh, I pillaged but all I came back with was the Aztec’s worst gold”.  Cry me a river.  But, it is their worst and it’s filled with pseudo-strings.

So, I’ve been articulating this theory for years and what should show up in my collection a while back but a new Diana Krall album, “When I Look in Your Eyes”. Really, not such a bad album. Not nearly as good as the previous stuff she had done, and nothing since has been either. I guess that’s my point. This album marked the end of the classic era for Diana Krall. Unless she has a renaissance, you will want to concentrate on albums prior to that album.

Here’s the rub. The record label placed over the cellophane a small sticker. On that sticker it read “Now with strings”. I shit you not. They stated it in no uncertain terms. As though this is what we’d all been waiting on.

Oh, that Diana Krall, what a performer. But she could use a little more cowbell.

I don’t pretend to understand the cryptic idiocy of the masses. Nor do I claim to fathom the corporate drones who place stickers on CD cellophane. I guess I should be thankful they didn’t place the sticker under the cellophane.