Flagship Innovations Trickle Down to the beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro + Headphone Timeline

Most people balk at spending more than $20 on a pair of headphones, given the disposable history of a typical portable consumer headphones for the past 35 years. Music lovers who do invest in a full size set of over-the ear cans, 9 times out of 10 they’re terrible sounding Beats or average sounding Bose noise reduction headphones. When flagships are selling for over $1,000, and more frequently more than $3,000, it’s understandable that the audiophile world can seem inaccessible to anyone but the most fervent hobbyists, obsessed music fiends, industry professionals, or just plain rich assholes with too much disposable income. However nearly every brand with a pricey flagship offers other more affordable models that benefit from the research and technology that go into the flagships. Case in point, the latest offering from venerable German company beyerdynamic, the DT 1990 Pro, which makes use of the Tesla technology first introduced to their T1 flagship in 2011. Tesla refers to the relatively large amount of magnetic force in the driver mechanism of the headphone which renders it very sensitive, and therefore efficient. The DT 1990 Pro is arguably a more accurate reference headphone than the T1, and at $600, less than half the current price of the updated T1 ($1,399). I also simply enjoy seeing images of new flagships, because they are often great looking works of art, much like loudspeakers and bicycles.

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My love for headphones, as it is with many people, is rooted in a formative experience from my childhood. I grew up in an extended family of music lovers with pretty diverse record collections. However like a lot of sensible working class folks, they did not spend much money on fancy stereo systems. Well, my grandparents’ TV-record-player-shortwave-radio-bourbon-glass-storage combo might have been pricey for them back in the day, but it wasn’t exactly hi-fi. So the first time I put on my uncle’s full size Koss headphones (probably a 1974-76 model), I felt like I was in Oz when it flips to full color, or I’d fallen through the looking glass. I’d never heard music so intimately and with such detail before, and the experience played a big part in my becoming such an insatiable music fiend. Ironically my own headphone purchases started with an early cheap Sears knockoff of the Walkman, so basically the nadir of headphone history. It wasn’t until after college that I invested in a pair of Sony MDR-V6 to spare my housemates from my music late at night. Continue reading

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Reissues Rundown

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As the holiday gift-buying season approaches, reissues and box sets will be vying for consumer dollars. With the decline in physical album sales, I feared that only the most mainstream artists would receive the deluxe treatments that I’m sometimes a sucker for. There’s certainly no shortage of big names. For example, back in April Metallica reissued long-awaited remasters of their first three albums. However, no alternative options were given other than to get everything — four vinyl LPs, five to six CDs and a DVD, for the whopping price of nearly $140 each. If that seems a bit obnoxious for a band that owes their initial popularity to hardcore metalhead tape traders, well, it is. But if the market can sustain that kind of bloated pricing, that’s their perogative. Eventually (after the holidaze no doubt), more reasonable versions will become available. Other reissues include Lou Reed, The RCA & Arista Albums Collection (October 7, 17 CDs, $160), including nearly all his 70s and 80s albums which Reed himself remastered shortly before his death. Much more affordable are Otis ReddingLive At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings (October 21, 7 CDs, $49) and just out last week, Led Zeppelin, The Complete BBC Sessions (3 CDs, $19). There’s of course dozens more, from Nina Simone to Bruce Springsteen. However, the collections that excited me are from decidedly more obscure artists. Continue reading

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Drakkar Nowhere – Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

Drakkar Nowhere - Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond, 2016)Daniel Collás of Brooklyn’s funky pop soul Phenomenal Handclap Band and Morgan Phalen (Favored Nations, Diamond Nights) from Stockholm,  began collaborating four years ago, exploring more jazzy prog and psych. Now with help from guests like Dungen’s Mattias Gustavsson, their debut is here, and while there is still a link to their past associations with smooth pop sounds,  this is something altogether more trippy and cosmic. Their psych prog and soul hybrid reflects the different settings that this album was created in. After some time trading tapes across the ocean, the duo got together in Sweden and were inspired by the lush forests outside of Bagarmossen and Midsommarkransen. You can almost hear the sounds of the woods and see the stars in the sky in “In The Eye Of Time.” 

They did further recording in L.A., collaborating with 70s singer-songwriter Ned Doheny on “Higher Now,” which really expands on Gram Parson’s conception of cosmic American music, with ghostly organs, strutting bass and dreamy harmonies. First single “How Could That Be Why?” lures you in with a deceptively simple, funky beat, falsetto vocals and dueling analog space synths. The yearning chorus of “Did It Ever?” is another highlight that could easily be a single. The falsetto calisthetics in “The Line” make me think of Jeff Buckley had he hooked up with a much better band, with great songwriters to collaborate with and embark on a truly special musical spirit quest. “Salutations To The Sun” is a timely farewell to summer, just a couple days after the Autumn Equinox. The longest track on the album, it’s a bit of a jazz prog odyssey per Spinal Tap, but with some tasteful German kosmische in there as well. This is a really accomplished debut and bodes well for the future. While many call this a side project, I have a feeling this will become their main gig.

When I started discovering old somewhat overlooked albums by bands that bridged the worlds of 60s psychedelia and 70s prog several years ago (Flower Travellin’ Band, Stray, High Tide, T2, Gun, Night Sun, Blackwater Park, etc), I felt there was more more territory to explore. Luckily, a few musicians were also listening and agree (Motorpsycho, Electric Orange, Circle, Amplifier, Hypnos 69, Dungen, Fuzz Manta, Spirits Of The Dead, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Purson, Blood Ceremony, Wolf People, Baron, Syd Arthur, Messenger and more). Thank the fucking rock gods for that. Otherwise I don’t know, I’d have to be pretending to love the new Neurosis album today instead, or try to get back into black metal.

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Death Be Not Proud: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Wovenhand & Tau

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Just in time for the Autumn Equinox, a trio of albums were released on September 9 that deal with death and spirituality in varying but connected ways. While actual listening enjoyment can also vary, these are all pretty sophisticated treatments of the kind of music I featured 15 years ago on Grim Reapers & Haunted Melancholy: Music of Autumn.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds, 2016)I’ve been listening to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ latest, Skeleton Tree for a couple weeks, and it’s been pretty rough going. I can see why it’s held in high regard, as it is better than his last album. Despite the fact that the album was written before Cave’s family tragedy, the lyrics are eerily prescient of what happened with his son last year. That’s not a big surprise, since he often writes about death. Much of the recording was done after the fact, which explains why Cave sounds so shattered and aged. It seems I’m alone here, but I find such a stark, harrowing listen not all that desirable. It’s the same reason I feel David Bowie’s final album is hugely overrated. It’s understandable when people have a ghoulish fascination with music created in close proximity to death, but I don’t feel it automatically increases the intrinsic value to the listening experience. It makes me nostalgic for Cave’s more exuberant, swaggering work with Grinderman and on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008), and of course his late 80’s peak with Your Funeral … My Trial (1986) and Tender Prey (1988) where he sounds like he’s having drinks and swapping jokes with Death rather than being crushed by it. “Jesus Alone,” “Girl In Amber” and “I Need You” are certainly moving, but if I were to experience tragedy on a similar level, I would not turn to this for solace. Those looking for more punishment can go to the theater and see a behind the scenes viewpoint of the creation of the album in the black and white art film “One More Time With Feeling” with some commentary from Cave. While most everything that comes out of Cave’s mouth is intelligent and insightful, that doesn’t mean his last movie, “20,000 Days on Earth” (2014) wasn’t soul-crushingly dull and pretentious. I’ll skip the movie, and file the album away to admire at a distance and probably wait a couple years to revisit. Continue reading

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Live Album Rundown

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In the 1970s golden era of live albums, they had a pretty big impact on bands’ careers. After toiling in relative obscurity for their first three albums, the careers of both KISS (Alive!, 1975) and Cheap Trick (At Budokan, 1979) exploded into massive mainstream popularity with their hit live albums. One of the reasons was that both bands had trouble translating the volume and excitement of their sound to their studio albums. Other bands were arguably more successful at getting a good studio sound (AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Scorpions, Judas Priest), but also all had popular live albums that sold well and served as sort of greatest hits at the time. While not nearly as popular, Hawkwind’s definitive album was the double live Space Ritual (1973). Perhaps inspired by the early success of Deep Purple’s Made In Japan (1972), nearly every rock band with a half decent stage show (other standouts include Humble Pie, Ted Nugent, Allman Brothers, Neil Young), did a live album, and some that didn’t. The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead (1969) was so successful that the band’s following recorded every concert they ever played and had an entire subculture economy based on trading bootlegs. Continue reading

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Bonus Psych: Morgan Delt, The Winstons, Sir Robin & The Longbowmen + More

A few psych releases managed to fly under my radar this past summer. Who am I kidding, there are probably dozens of worthy albums that I miss out on throughout the world. Anyway, here’s a few more albums worthy of your consideration that did not get originally mentioned in Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side. Before I play catch-up, there is an album that came out Friday.

Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt (Sub Pop, 2016)

Continue reading

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Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side

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Last year, Tame Impala and Jacco Gardner set the tone for the psychedelic summer with a fairly upbeat mix of electro psych and bucolic pop. It’s fitting with all the horrendous murder sprees and ugly politics that this year’s crop would be darker and dirtier. Lola Colt, reviewed here, put out an album that rivals The Drones for album of the year so far, a benchmark in psych noir.  Heading the rest of the crop are some garage noir bands, Os Noctàmbulos, Night Beats, The Mystery Lights and The Murlocs. Continue reading

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Blues Pills – Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast)

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Blues Pills - Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast, 2016)While Blues Pills are based in Sweden, they’re an international group with American bassist and songwriter Zach Anderson originally serving time in Radio Moscow, and former teen prodigy guitarist Dorian Sorriaux is French. Their musical inspirations are just as diverse as their nationalities. While their debut album from 2014 comfortably fit them with fellow Swedish hard psych rockers Graveyard, Witchcraft, Truckfighters and Spiders, Lady In Gold expands their reach from Blue Cheer and Big Brother & the Holding Company fusion of fuzz and blues rock into psychedelic soul. It’s not really that surprising or jarring of a progression, except for those who might have expected them to go more in the direction of psych noir and prog like Blood Ceremony, Purson and Jess And The Ancient Ones. Partly because that territory is more than capably covered by others, and more because Elin Larsson and company’s passions are more rooted in American influences, this evolution feels completely natural. Continue reading

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Between The Cracks Part 3

Great bands that slipped between the cracks of new wave, power pop, punk and post-punk, 1978-1982

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between-the-cracksTrends are bullshit. From film to fashion to music, they can be somewhat useful for marketing, packaging and selling certain things, but a lot of great art gets passed over for substandard cultural product. In Parts one and two of my Between The Cracks series, I focused mostly on music from the 70s which fell between the cracks of glam, prog, art rock, metal and punk. While I love much of the music that came out of those genres, bands that didn’t quite fit were often ignored, unfairly suffering a demise due to lack of commercial success.

vive-le-rock-36This latest batch re-entered my brainspace when I was thinking about what albums I would send back in a time-travelling care package to myself for my 12th birthday. To keep it simple I kept it to roughly a three year period of what was considered contemporary music a the time, from 1978 to mid-1981 (my birthday is July 16). As I was digging through the kind of music my twelve year-old self would have liked (mostly new wave and poppy punk), coincidentally UK magazine Vive Le Rock’s current issue had the feature, “The 50 Greatest New Wave Albums Ever.” The top of the list had the predictable, obvious choices of Blondie, Devo, Elvis Costello, The Police, The Romantics and The Go-Go’s, The Cars, Talking Heads, The Knack, The Pretenders, B-52’s, Squeeze and Joe Jackson, all easily available stuff I listened to as a kid. Following those were a lot of artists that took several years to track down, but became favorites sometime between my teens and twenties, like Tubeway Army, Ultravox, Graham Parker & The Rumour, Lene Lovich, XTC, The Undertones, Iggy Pop, The Vapors, Monochrome Set, Wall Of Voodoo, The Flying Lizards, Altered Images and Ian Dury and the Blockheads (if you haven’t seen the movie Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) starring Andy Serkis, I recommend it). Continue reading

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Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette & The Compass Point Trilogy

Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette (Island, 1980)Release a couple weeks ago but seemingly only available in the UK right now, the deluxe double album reissue of Warm Leatherette was long overdue, and now seems to missing out on the fanfare it deserves. What was once considered a flawed start to a groundbreaking trilogy of albums has been restored to it’s rightful place as the near equal of Nightclubbing.

By the late 70s, Grace Jones was already well known for her modelling, and as a disco diva who frequented Studio 54 and released three albums on Island between 1977 and 79. But with the help of label head Chris Blackwell, she reinvented herself into something much greater — a badass subcultural icon who forged a new fusion of post-punk, avant pop and reggae. 36 years after it’s initial release, Warm Leatherette finally got the reissue it deserves. Two aspects make the reissue completely essential.  First, all the long versions are made available. The original vinyl featured truncated versions to keep the album under 40 minutes, while the cassette version contained the longer cuts. With such a sublime, addictive album, the long versions are a must have. Second, three versions of her cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” are included, which was not included on the original album, which was a huge mistake. It’s her most unhinged performance ever, and should be part of the album. Continue reading

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