Sunday, August 26, 2012

Music Library Catch Up: Aesop Rock, Afrirampo, Alabama Shakes, Alice Cooper, Alice Donut, Animal Collective, Ass Ponys, Atlas Sound, Avey Tare, Aye-Ayes, Albert Ayler

I have a lot of albums that I've missed out of my regular music library coverage over time. Here's a few.

Aesop Rock - Float (2000). I've written about Aesop Rock a few times over the course of this project: here, here, and here. And yet I've never said anything of substance about his work. I'm a lousy writer about hip-hop, so maybe that's for the best. This is a great album, though.

Afrirampo - WE ARE UCHU NO KO (2010). Psychedelic in a uniquely Japanese way! Two ladies singing, shouting, harmonizing, and screaming, all while kicking out some truly amazing tribal-meets-crazy-noise-meets-heavy-stoner guitar and drum mojo. Fantastic.

Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes EP (2011). Nothing new under the sun, as you've probably heard from the infinite number of stories about this young band, but they mine Janis Joplin in a fun way.

Alice Cooper - Mascara And Monsters: The Best Of Alice Cooper (1971-1989). I don't need much Alice Cooper in my life, but a little bit, which nicely coincides with the first half of this collection, is just great.

Alice Donut - Mule (1990). I've had a bunch of vinyl from this band over time, but this is my first digital copy of one of their albums. Great stuff, even if it is very similar to the Butthole Surfers.

Animal Collective - Honeycomb/Gotham (2012). Good lord, have I written about this guys a lot. This is the new one, and I still like them less with each new release. Here, here, here, here, here, and, comprehensively, here.

Ass Ponys - Electric Rock Music (1994). The only other thing I have by these guys is a mix from a friend, which I like a lot. I have yet to explore them as much as I'd like, but this is a good start. Excellent album.

Atlas Sound - Orange Ohms Glow EP (2008). More trippy soundscapes from Bradford Cox. I wrote about another Atlas Sound album very briefly more than four freakin' years ago. Has this project eaten my life? Maybe.

Avey Tare - Down There (2010). I actually like this better than the recent Animal Collective albums. And the previous Avey Tare albums, which I review here

Aye-Ayes - It's Immediate (2011). Whereas the previous Aye-Ayes album had the feel of 80s college radio, this one is more like 80s commercial radio, which is much less my thing. Sorry, guys. It's good for what it is, and I think that people younger than me who didn't live through 80s radio may enjoy it more.

Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost (1962-1971). This box set is the greatest thing since the invention of, well, ubiquitous food stuffs. Ayler live and burning down the house over and over again. He sought transcendence and found it in pretty much every song. Covered previously here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Man, A Plan, A Soldering Iron, Part I: The Why

I am a guitarist of the indie-rock/anything-goes school. Although I’ve been playing for 27 years, I’m pretty much resigned to maxing out as an okayish player, which may even be a generous self-assessment. Despite my limitations, playing music and being a part of bands have been an important part of my life and I don’t really want to quit just because I’m, y’know, old and busy with other things and not that great of a musician. In recent years, I’ve become more interested in tone, which is an aspect of music that comes with a price tag attached.

For most of the time I’ve played electric music, I’ve played fairly clean. Guitar, cord, amp. No pedals. I spent money on the best guitar and amp I could get at the time, and if I had any other cash, I spent it on different instruments. I’ve lacked confidence – justifiably – in my guitar playing, and through most of my 20s, I played bass, mandolin, a smattering of other instruments, and only occasionally guitar in bands. In my 30s I started taking the guitar more seriously, mostly under the influence of my friend Matt, who is a very good guitarist. Matt encouraged me to invest in a few pedals for added grit and to think about my tone. Recently I’ve gone far past the tasteful few pedals that Matt surely meant.

So, first off, I play through a vintage 1965 Princeton Reverb. I’ve replaced the speaker twice, once with a Weber 10” alnico and, more recently, with a Weber 12” alnico. I have held onto a number of guitars that show off my financial limitations: a Tokai Strat copy, a Tokai Telecaster copy, an Epiphone Sheraton that I modded into a Casino with some mini-P-90s, and, within the last three months, a J. Mascis Squier Jazzmaster, which is now my main axe. All of which is to say that I have decent enough equipment. The Princeton breaks up beautifully when overdriven (starting at about 5 on the volume knob) and has top-notch chorus and reverb settings built into it. My guitar has excellent tone, and as long as I'm happy with the straight guitar to amp sound that I have, everything is fine. But I'm not satisfied with a single sound.

Last summer I had some severe medical problems that damaged my right leg, and I've been a lot less active since. I was also unemployed for about 18 months that included all of 2011. Towards the end of the year, with too much time on my hands and not a lot of money, I decided that I was try my hand at modifying my meager guitar pedals.

The pedals I'd been carrying around for years were a Catalinbread Chile Picoso clean boost, a Danelectro (Dano from here on out) Daddy-O (which is pretty much the same thing as a Marshall Guv'ner overdrive), a beat-up MXR Distortion + from the 70s, a Dano Rocky Road rotating speaker simulator, all of which were offset from the main line by a Loooper loop pedal, and a Boomerang 2 phrase sampler. Here's a post from 2005 that included my brief flirtation with running the phrase sampler through a cheap-o Sunn 0))) 112. I believed that the Catalinbread was true-bypass (meaning that my signal was unaffected by the electronics inside the pedal when it was off), and the other pedals were branched off of my main line by the Loooper until I wanted them, so I had a pretty clean line, or so I thought, from guitar to amp. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first modification ("mod," from here on) was to the Rocky Road pedal, and I did this back in 2003 or 2004. Those pedals came with a gain issue, so they were super-loud when switched on. Danos are not true-bypass pedals, meaning that they always affect your signal, which is why I had it on one of the Loooper loops, but the gain issue made it an unusable pedal. However, with a quick jumper between two pads, I had a fine, cheap, although unbypassed pedal.

The second modification: So when I decided to start messing around with pedal mods last September, I started with my other Dano, which was sounding duller and duller over the years. I bought a kit from Monte Allums, the Tri-Gain TNT mod. The Dano now sounds much better than it did, although I never use it anymore for other reasons, mainly because it, too, is unbypassed. Just writing about this makes me realize that it is probably time to learn how to bypass a Dano pedal. Anyway, I took no pictures of either of these modifications, but here's someone else's modded Dano. Mine looks much the same.

buffer board
The third, fourth, and fifth projects were in mid October of last year. After reading about the importance of buffering a long pedal chain, I bought a pre-printed buffer board from General Guitar Gadgets (on the left) and a bunch of components from Pedal Parts Plus. With the board I built my first handmade pedal, a buffer, which is shown at right. I let my kids decorate it with me. It has an utterly superfluous 3PDT true-bypass switch, which it doesn't need because it is an always-on pedal. At the same time, I pulled out the old legacy switch from my MXR Distortion + and replaced it with a 3PDT switch for true-bypass. I also added in jumpers around the input resistors in my Boomerang because it had gotten quite hissy over time.

I built a pedalboard out of an old suitcase around the same time, so my pedal rig as of October 18, 2011 looked like the following picture. Note that I had added a few other pedals over time: a Boss CS-3 compressor/sustainer, a Barber Direct Drive overdrive pedal, an Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy analogy delay pedal, and an ultra-shitty autowah that came with a bass I bought from Eastwood Guitars.

This is where I'll leave my story today. Next time: I mod out the CS-3 and build three Fuzz Faces!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Shrill Egoism of a Crying Baby

I keep starting this post over. For months now, I’ve tried to come up with a way to describe why I’ve been unable to write lately, but the problem itself keeps me from describing it. Part of it is that I’ve started a new job where the need to dissociate my working life from my creative one has led me to go by my first name for the first time in my entire life. I’m 40 years old, so Iconsider the fact that I usually answer to this new name and most variants thereof to be a victory of sorts. There’s something appealingly metaphorical about having different names for different parts of my life, although I’m afraid that I’m also setting myself up for a schizophrenic break in the next few years where my working-name me eventually assumes an entirely different identity while my creative-name me tries to suss out why his bank account is evaporating. Soon to be a major motion picture from Charlie Kaufman! Anyway, I did not account for the fact that I would make friends at work who I want in my private, and somehow more real, life. In retrospect, this should have been obvious.

The point here, though, is that I’m engulfed in an identity crisis. My mind keeps turning back to Wittgenstein’s exhortation, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.” There are two problems with this: he himself broke that dictum and he didn’t mean it this way. And yet these words have taken up lodging in my head, like a quicksilver robot made of NO, telling me that I’m out of ideas, the muse is gone, the point of view that I honed over my thinking years has snapped off, with all of the related implications of mental castration. I’m split in two. I’m Rumpelstiltskin. I’m gone.

Except, of course, that I’m still here. After nearly dying last year, this should be more of an everyday miracle, but it’s the kind of miracle that oxidizes on the unruly part of your lawn and you find yourself feeling guilty for never polishing it before the weeds take over. That’s the surgery that saved me. That vine-covered lump over there, hidden by trees. You should have seen how it gleamed back when I couldn’t stop staring at it. Back then, I kept thinking about what if I had died. What would I leave? This is meandering and now soppy bullshit. Sorry.

This gets to my problem. When I try to write anything for myself, it seems meandering and soppy and thereof I should remain silent. I keep starting this post over because writing this narcissistic crap is good for no one, not even me. Hey, everyone: I’m sad and old and out of touch. And fat. I’m confused and I’m not feeling a lot of the pop culture that used to fuel me. Isn’t that interesting? Let me help: No. No, it’s not. So why am I even writing this? I don’t know. Maybe just because I feel bad about not even maintaining my meager little blog. So there you go.

I sincerely hope that no one made it through all this self-pitying crap. I probably would delete this, too, except that if I picked up one thing from last night’s Louie (where he flees in panic when confronted with his father), it’s that I should just go ahead and get through the agony because nothing’s really chasing me and there’s really nowhere to run.

If anyone still cares, I’m continuing my listening project, although I’ve been unable to write about music except in short bursts for the last, what, two years? Maybe by putting this up, I can stop feeling bad about not doing anything and move forward on that. I also started to build guitar pedals last year, so I’m thinking about writing about that instead of any more of these pathetic attempts at introspection. I’m not really working for the large online pop culture magazine associated with the Onion at the moment, mostly because I don’t have the time, although I hope to change this in the near future.

My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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