Known Johnson

August 29, 2008

Party girl

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:49 pm

Happy 3rd birthday, Amanda!

Free prize in every box

August 28, 2008

Just what everyone wants

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:59 pm
Just what everyone wants

August 24, 2008

Various and sundry, vol. 1024.7

Filed under: Various and Sundry — Tom @ 9:45 pm

I haven’t done one of these in ages. Now new and improved with Iphoned-pictures:

Creepy
Kind of like that scene in The Godfather, only involving Amanda’s birthday gifts and taking place in the trunk of my truck.

Clouds crowd 'round the mountain

We get really hopeful when we see clouds like this around 5pm. Inevitably, more often than not, nothing happens. So far: nothing has happened.

More dead bugs!

For the past two weeks, we’ve had a daily invasion of these annoying beetles – black with thin red stripes along the length of their sides – coming in the front door (all those black specks in that shot are them, dead, outside our front door.) We were going crazy. Nothing stopped them. Finally, I did some research and tried this crazy remedy. It turned out that it worked. The solution? I turned off the front porch light and they stopped bothering us immediately. High tech!

Sleepy, as usual
If there’s one thing the Iphone does, it gives me an opportunity to take pointless pictures of things and upload them to Flickr in realtime. Who doesn’t love a picture of a slumbering kitty?

Garden of eatin’

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:10 pm

We got ourselves a fine new eatin’ locale this weekend:

Garden of eatin'

I didn’t even bother to take a picture of our old table. It was just far too embarrassing to go public with. Suffice it to say, we feel like actual adults now, and have to figure out how to actually take care of real-fine furniture as such*.

That said, we didn’t particularly eat like adults for our first meal at the table:

First meal at the new table - wow

A passable Red Baron pizza and . . .

Stretching the meaning of "cuisine"

Really stretching the meaning of the word “cuisine” here. Amanda liked the pudding, which, amazingly, marked the first known time she has ever eaten pudding, believe it or not. A shame it had to be wasted on Kid “Cuisine” pudding, but not every “first time” is noteworthy – as is evidenced by this entire meal.

*If you’re wondering, the chairs are still covered in a protective plastic, which we chose to keep in place until I got a chance to thoroughly Scotchgard them. It’s not just having a messy child around. We also have a messy adult around. Me.

August 20, 2008

I got bugs

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:14 pm

First off . . .

Certainly the first time that a King Crimson show has been made officially available a mere 13 days after the event, and I am very excited to hear this incarnation tear into this material. Most intriguing is hearing master drummer Gavin Harrison (currently also employed by Porcupine Tree) match wits with now-veteran Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto. From the little I’ve heard, I am preparing myself to unseat Bill Bruford from his perch as “perfect King Crimson drummer.” Gavin is, believe it or not, even more impressive. What he accomplishes with Porcupine was just the tip o’ the proverbial iceberg. King Crimson unleashes a whole ‘nother side of him. Truly amazing guy.

This past weekend’s final shows in New York had better not have been the final King Crimson shows. I need to see this quintet in action myself.

Come on, you’ve got to admit that’s pretty cool to see. And they sound even better – The Unforgettable Fire completely buries the original, which sounds anemic in comparison. As Ferris Bueller would say, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

This entire post was made possible by my Iphone. Well, not entirely – I didn’t type it out on it, I’m no masochist. But all images in it were due to the Iphone that, as of earlier this evening, I wasn’t sure was going to be able to do this after the recent update that came out yesterday. See, I updated and was one of what seems to be Steve Jobs’ favorite new sayings – the “2% of users having issues.” Updated, the phone reconnected with Itunes, and then told me that it needed to reload a previous backup. Great – only it had already done this, and it took well over an hour to do so. Did it again, because what am I to do? Let it do it only to get the same message again. At this point, I just unplugged it and gave it a try. It worked . . . but it had no music or photos loaded on it. I gave up for the night and figured I’d scour forums when I got a chance. When I did, I saw I was not alone – 2% is a lot of people, it seems! Maybe that’s 2% of the general public. Anyway, I came home tonight to give another option a try that was suggested, which is to simply let Itunes set it up as a new phone, even though it isn’t. I hit the button and away it went. Five minutes later – I kid not – FIVE MINUTES later, the entire thing was done and it was loading my music back on there. WTF? Note the bolding AND italicizing there? Yeah. But it works now, obviously. Photos and screenshots and emails are being served and so I am a happy camper.

August 19, 2008

DMB saxophonist, LeRoi Moore, dead at 47

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 9:26 pm

Wow – this surprised me. “LeRoi Moore, saxophonist and founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, died Tuesday from complications stemming from injuries he sustained in an ATV accident, the band’s publicist said.” I can’t say I’ve been much of a fan of the band for quite a while, but I’ll always enjoy their earlier material, and I really loved what Moore added to the band – especially when he brought out the huge baritone sax. This is very sad, his absence in the band will be a huge loss.

Update: the band put on a touching tribute to LeRoi the same night.

Know your MoFi

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 10:58 am

Now I remember (again) why I stopped buying the Mobile Fidelity discs way back when. These things are limited editions from the start – small runs intended not to produce panic in the fans but to keep record labels from freaking out about an additional product on the market, and the price reflects that. They’re typically twice the normal price of regular CDs. As the saying goes, you should be getting what you pay for. When they go out of print, which is pretty quickly, up goes their value. Always.

“Back in the day,” which, for me, was before the internet was the handy way to spread music, when these were gone, they were gone. You might find one occasionally in a used record store at a fair price (and, believe me, I did – it’s how I got all three of the older Rush MFSL discs, $8.99-$15.99 each!) but generally, once the new, sealed MFSL discs were out of the bins, you weren’t going to see them again unless you were very, very lucky.

In a sign that I’m getting old, I didn’t even think about that “scourge of the music industry,” bit torrent, until now, with regards to MoFi product. And, really, it’s partially because some of the fun is simply owning these things. But when you see them selling for $100-200 a pop, the fun drizzles out quickly – I just want to hear them at that point. Fire up Google, find a list of old MFSL or DCC discs, and the phrase “(artist or release here) mfsl flac” will lead the way.

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating this for everything. I love owning what I enjoy. You should too. I go out of my way to seek out what I love. But when the price goes up above $30-40 for something like these discs, and they’re long out of print, then I see no problem hitting up the “illegal” routes to get them.

By last night, I had, on my hard drive at home, all four Guns ‘N Roses albums mastered by MFSL, The Who’s Who Are You and Quadrophenia, and both DCC Metallica discs (Master of Puppets, which is INCREDIBLE sounding, and Ride the Lightning, which is “merely” awesome – these blow away the original CDs) By my estimation, this haul is about $600 worth of Ebay auctions. Maybe $1000. Maybe even more. All of these sell for insane prices.

But guess what? I was completely stunned to find that the $5.99 Who Are You that I bought not too long ago, the one that is about 25 years old, sounds nearly identical to the MFSL disc. Granted, it sounds drastically different compared to the one currently available, but that’s because what’s been available since 1996 is a remix. There were also slightly different masters of this album that emerged later in the 80s – I lucked out, as I seem to do – and found one of the very, very early discs that was directly from the vinyl master. It is extremely close in sound. If I listened really closely, I noticed that the cymbals were much sharper and more distinct sounding, but it is absolutely not worth the insane prices people are paying for this disc. Quadrophenia may turn out to be the same, but I need to listen to a few more songs. I found an old version of that on Ebay last year for $15. There’s one in an Ebay store right now for $128, which is actually kind of low considering it’s a two disc set.

Back to what I’d said at the beginning: now I remember why I stopped buying these “back in the day.” It turned out too often like the above, where they simply sounded way too much like the original albums, and too rarely were they a revelation, as they were touted to be, and they should have been. I think I’m gifted with pretty good ears, but when I strain to hear a significant difference, we’re getting into the territory of “diminishing returns.” I can’t afford to invest hard-earned money in something where I may not be able to distinguish the one I forked over a big wad of cash for from the cheap, everyday-looking copy I picked up at a local record store.

That said, some really are worthy of the extreme praise I’ve seen heaped on them. Most impressive to me was Master of Puppets. As Metallica’s classic album and defining moment, sadly I never liked the way it sounded. I have never quite known why, but now, after hearing this, I know – it was pretty badly compressed, even way back in 1986 before compression was such an issue. This version, by Digital Compact Classics, mastered by the renowned Steve Hoffman, has absolutely no compression on it and sounds like a band playing live in the studio. Cymbals ring out and you can sense room reflections; James Hetfield’s voice growls in an especially menacing way; the drums absolutely pound – they way they should have; all because the compression limited what kind of effect the sound could have on the listener. The effect on Ride the Lightning is similar, but lesser so – that album simply didn’t sound as bad to begin with. If only DCC could have handled . . . And Justice For All.

I was also very impressed with the Guns N Roses MoFi discs – the Illusion albums sounded better than I expected, and it makes sense, now that I think about it. The 90s were when the “loudness wars” began in earnest and so a label like MFSL can really make the most of music from that era. But even Appetite sounds different – the drums have a very different sound, much more natural. I wish these weren’t so insanely expensive, I would love to own the real things, but my copies will have to do unless I stumble on someone accidentally selling them at affordable prices. Believe it or not, it happens.

On the entirely legitimate side of things, I received a real copy of the MFSL version of Cheap Trick’s At Budokan. I’ve had the “complete Budokan” for ages, but I never liked the sound – I just assumed it was something to do with the age of the thing. But for being such a legendary album, I thought it was weird, so I did a little investigating last week and “procured” a “test copy” (ahem) of the original. It sounded much better. I knew immediately what had happened to Complete – they added reverb! Why?! It sounds awful. It might be complete, but it’s an aural mess. Off I went to find the best version I could – great music deserves to be heard well. Everywhere I looked, all signs pointed to the MFSL version, which had been out of print since 1997, but apparently they uncovered a batch of them because they’d recently been selling them on their site – but, my luck, it was now, once again, gone. I did find one for a decent price, and it arrived yesterday – and it sound amazing. They can still be had for good prices if you check the usual places (Amazon, Half, Ebay – anything over $35-40 is too much.)

These got me excited to hear what the upcoming Faith No More MFSL disc for Angel Dust will sound like. I have always hated the sound of that album, but it’s one of my favorites – it’s always on my Ipod “just in case.” It’s also from the same time as Use Your Illusion(s), but sounds far more nasty, so I think it’s going to sound pretty great.

The nice thing about these discs is that they aren’t wastes of money. No matter what, they increase in value. Dumb as it may sound, for once, music is an investment. Keep all the stuff that goes with these (outer paper sleeves and such) and, if you ever feel like getting rid of them, collectors will respond with generous offers. Maybe not today, but in a few years, once they’ve gone out of print and demand has gone up. After all, that is how an investment works. Take good care of these things and they probably will take good care of you.

August 18, 2008

Looking back at Use Your Illusion(s)

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 4:54 pm

Yeah, I said it – the two underdogs in the Guns ‘N Roses catalog (we’ll just ignore that Spaghetti Incident altogether, okay?) I came across a discussion of the band this morning, and these were the current topic, and it made me very glad I have the big 160gb Ipod. “Always be prepared,” isn’t that the Boy Scouts motto or something? Join me as I take a winding trip through these albums and the past . . .

The two Illusion albums get a bad rap because they follow a damned solid one-two punch from GnR – debut album Appetite for Destruction is undeniably one of the greatest albums of the 80s and GnR Lies is that little EP that could. And they’re really spotty, to be honest – but there’s also some pretty good stuff among the pair. Use Your Illusion I & II looked bloated in comparison to the tight and vicious Appetite, and they are, but of the two, II is an almost completely solid listen. It’s been a long time since I really sat down and evaluated either, but after spending the day with II, I realize that it’s only a few tracks on this one that flaw it – remove “Get In The Ring” (which is really only marred by Axl’s long, stupid, expletive-riddled rant, which is unfortunately impossible to ignore,) “Shotgun Blues,” “Pretty Tied Up,” and the pointless “My World” and you’ve got a very solid album. The opening quartet of songs alone is pretty incredible.

Illusion I doesn’t fair so well. It’s bogged down by a lot more just plain middling songs. Not bad but not good enough to really stand out, making it really hard to pluck out any real standouts besides the obvious “Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” the cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and the dramatic epic, “Coma.” The rest is merely “okay,” and being the first of the two albums, well, you know what they say about first impressions. The material on II should have been the first disc. You can play them whatever order you want, but most people first listened to these discs in numerical order, perhaps thinking there was a meaning to be derived from listening to them that way. There wasn’t. It did end with the generally better material, however. Illusion I comes across like the b-sides/outtakes album it should have been.

The thing about this whole period is that it really illustrated what happened with the band and hard rock in general. Two albums released on the same day just screamed excess that wasn’t even blinked at back then. Then they went on a tour that did nothing but scream excess – which was hardly blinked at either. I saw ’em, so I should know. Or, really, I saw a bit of ’em. During this tour, Axl pretty much determined when the band took the stage, and he basically didn’t feel like coming on stage unless several hours had passed since the time on the ticket indicated the show would begin. When I saw them, the ticket said, I believe, 7:30. Soundgarden opened the show at something like 9:30, maybe even later (and GnR, minus Axl, came out during one of their songs with naked blow-up dolls, to run around on stage.)

It was after 1 am when the band finally took the stage. It was was winter, it was cold. The venue was crap-ass Compton Terrace which sits on a damned lake, and the wind blows right off the damned lake across the seating area. And I had a really, really nasty cold. I was tired, I felt like shit, I had felt like shit for hours. I had figured I’d be in bed by this time, dammit, but here they were just taking the stage now. After a few songs, I left my friends and went and slept in my truck. I spent much more time waiting for the damned concert than I anything else. It was massively disappointing. It kind of tainted my view of the band for a while, but like my cold and all dumb things, I got over it after a while. It’s the music that matters. Much of it is still pretty good.

Now there’s word that Chinese Democracy really is ready for release and will be one of those single-store exclusives. No matter what, prejudice is going to crush this one. It’ll sell, but it already has a built-in reputation as a joke. Is it likely to be any good? I want to remain open-minded, but it seems unlikely that anything slaved over for so long will truly be anything of note. But you never know – Brian Wilson’s Smile seems to have emerged from its chrysalis pretty unscathed. Then again, Wilson, weird as he always has been, has a better reputation in general than W. Axl Rose. I’m guessing nothing is going to challenge Appetite for Destruction, or even some of the Illusion material, when it comes to Axl’s output.

David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens . . . available, you know, today!

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 4:14 pm

A lot has been made of this second pairing of David Byrne and Brian Eno, as if it’s another My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, but something important is being overlooked. Their first collaboration put the emphasis on “the Eno” – it was Brian Eno with David Byrne, and it sounds like it, being very experimental, daringly pushing boundaries. And that’s a great thing, if you’re a fan of “the Eno.” The opposite is true with Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – it is very much a David Byrne album with a lot of input from Brian Eno. And that’s a great thing indeed, too, especially if you’re a big fan of “the Byrne.”

If you signed up on the site, you were given access to “Strange Overtones,” an infectious, chiming-guitar laden tune that pokes a little fun at dated sounds not only in the lyrics but also in the music itself (dig that electronic “bell” sound that shows up in later verses, a sound that was so prevalent in 80s dance music – this after Byrne sings how “these beats are twenty years old.” It’s stuff like this that makes music great.) It seemed safe to assume that this was the direction the album was going to take, but you never know with guys like this.

After a few weeks of wondering exactly what this was going to be about, the day has arrived – and it’s kind of as expected, but still very, very cool. Three options (well, six, but I’ll get to that in a moment): digital (11 mp3s at 320kbps,) an 11-song CD (to be delivered in November) with previously mentioned mp3s available now, or the now de rigueur deluxe edition which features the CD with four extra songs, a short film about the album by Hillman Curtis, a special screensaver app (people still use those?) and the “Everything That Happens booklet,” whatever that means. Prices are, respectively, $8.99, $11.99, and (gulp) $69.99 – but you get that deluxe housed in a neat little circular diorama of a house on some pastoral land. It really does look nice – a real-life depiction of the Sims-looking house found on the album’s artwork.

The even nicer thing Byrne & Eno did is they offered buyers the option of grabbing their files in the form of FLAC in addition to mp3s . . . for free! When I saw the option at the bottom of the page, I prepared for the inevitable extra charge, but found myself shocked when no such charge was applied. Big thumbs up to these guys for not only “getting it” – the big stumbling block to moving ahead from traditional media from many like me has been being hobbled by mp3s – but doing so without gouging people for it. And what I just read is that the FLAC files are no mere simple WAVs but 48kHz/24bit – high resolution audio. I can’t make use of it right now, but for what is basically a give away download, this is above and beyond. I’ll keep these tucked safely away for when I do have a system that can present hi-rez audio. Thanks, guys.

I opted for “just” the regular CD with the mp3 and FLAC option as I can’t justify spending the extra $58 for four extra songs. I wanted very badly, but it just doesn’t make sense – that’s $14.25 a song. But what we get in the standard 11-song set is pure, unadulterated Byrne/Eno brilliance. Maybe it’s a little early to say it’s some of Byrne’s best material in a long time, but I feel confident saying it’s an album I’m going to be returning to slightly more often than his others – that Eno touch has done something amazing once again. What we get is late-model Byrne song-writing. This clearly isn’t Talking Heads – at most, you could suggest that Byrne has been working in Naked mode since they disbanded, and nothing here will trick anyone into thinking the Heads were back together.

If you’re a fan of Eno’s album with John Cale, Wrong Way Up, or Eno’s recent solo vocal album, Another Day On Earth, you may have an idea of what you’re getting, style-wise, with Everything That Happens. As David Byrne suggests, Eno was responsible for most of the music, while he merely contributed lyrics and tunes. Having only had it a number of hours, I really can’t say much about the whole other than that it’s beautiful. It might not be too early to say it’s some of Byrne’s best work in ages after all, and definitely will rank among the best of the year.

August 14, 2008

Someone has to deal with it

Filed under: General — Tom @ 4:38 pm

Alissa reads this site, Sweet Juniper, every day, and is constantly telling me about it, but I never think to go there. She sent me a link to it (W.R.T. T-man, in fact) finally so I went, it’s as good as she says. Points for her.

Anyway, he points out this child prodigy, Mo Kin, who, at 3, plays xylophone really well. I love Amanda and find her plinking on her little xylophone rather charming for a few minutes, but after a while, I kind of want her to find something quieter to play with. Maybe I’m a horrible father, I don’t know. There’s only so much clanky! clanky! clanky! in different pitches one can take before it starts to feel like little stabs in the brain, you know? And then I hear Mo Kin’s “prodigious” talent and . . . after about a minute of that, I realize, wow, even playing actual music, it’s just horrible. That kid’s parents have to listen to that all the time. It’s no wonder so many prodigies have awful childhoods – their parents probably went insane dealing with listening to them do whatever it is they do all the time. Can you imagine hearing that xylophone all the time? That’s what you get when you have a prodigy. Endless torture. Amanda’s occasional clankings on the cheap orange xylo-tiger from Toys R Us don’t seem so bad after all.

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