Deconstructing the Jonas Brothers—Why It's Not Good Clean Fun and You Know It

K.J. Kirk: My 11-year old daughter and I entered the arena in Baltimore with much excitement—we were going to see the Jonas Brothers perform live. My daughter, "Katie," being in the full throes of tween-dom, has her room plastered with Jonas Brothers posters; she has Jonas Brothers in heavy iPod rotation, and she buys (with her own money, carefully saved) every teen fanzine that has pictures and stories about the Jonas brothers. As with the Beatles, it is necessary to pick a favorite Jonas Brother. She's picked Joe, the lead singer.

Katie holds her love for the Jonas Brothers with fierce resolve. She loves them in the face of taunting from an older sister who is too cool for bands that appear to be for 'tweens; she loves them in spite of her friends’ scorn of their music. Trying to help her out, I would tell her I would listen to them in the car with her, and found them not at all irritating, but not very interesting, and certainly not compelling.

However, I had suspected that the Jonas Brothers (henceforth JB) might hold some interest when, upon the second watching of Camp Rock with Katie, I noticed the scene in which some of the girls follow Joe around, and he jumps in the lake, with just his swim trunks on. Oh, he’s easy on the eyes. I asked Katie—“how old is that kid?” She said, “Oh, he just turned 18.” Fair game.

So then my husband surprises Katie with tickets to the concert. We decide to just get two tickets, one for her, one for an adult—the adult being me. I ask my boss if I can leave an hour early the day of the concert so I can get home in time to drive there. I am surprised when my boss replies, “Sure thing. And if I were younger, I’d have a crush on them too. I saw them on Leno—they are adorable.” I find that almost every adult I mention JB to has seen them on TV, thinks they are cute, thinks it will be fun. The media blitz has created a buzz.

The night of the concert, I’m exhausted from work, as always, dreading the drive to the concert. Sure enough, we get stuck in horrible traffic and miss the first act (no loss, it turns out). We get to our seats, first section on the side, not too high up, good view of the stage. The arena is filled with 9–13-year-old girls, all screaming and squealing at every motion on the stage, as the roadies set up.

Then it begins—typical arena rock fare—lights dim, “We Will Rock You” blasted; all the girls are holding up glow sticks or cell phones, waving them in the air. The female energy is overwhelming in the place. The few dads around look stunned—I think they are probably drugged by the estrogen and astral projections of thousands of female bodies. The sexual tension is obvious, but as the girls are primarily pre-pubescent, it is a subliminal sexuality. They are about to blossom into full teenage sexuality, which, as any parent of teens knows, is something so thick and smothering you can’t stand to walk into a room containing more than four teens at a time. However, at this age, it is light and effervescent, like a nice Champagne aura bath. I wonder if this is the closest we will get in the modern age to what it was like at a festival for the cult of Aphrodite.

Then laser lights flash, actual flames flash out from giant torches on the stage, and the boys are lifted up on a stage platform, high above the rhythm and string section already in place, the platform revolves and set them down, and they bound off the platform like young goats set loose from a pen. The screaming is intense, but with modern sound systems, you can hear the band, unlike when the Beatles first appeared on our shores long ago. (This from a firsthand account from my husband, who as a 12-year-old convinced his parents to take him to see the Beatles’ first stop in the U.S.—the D.C. Armory. He says you couldn’t hear anything but the screaming.)

Joe takes the stage with a bravado that surprised me. That guy can take a stage. You can’t see his eyes yet—most of the first song is sung with his signature sunglasses on. When he takes them off toward the end of the song the girls go wild. I’m spending some time looking at Kevin, the oldest brother (20), who is playing guitar right in front of me. He clearly is capable on the guitar. He has noticeable sideburns and I swear his pants are tighter than the other brothers. The camera does a span over his crotch and Kevin seems to be working on a proper rock and roll guitar stance...just needs the pants a bit tighter—but the slight bulge will do for now, just to keep the moms interested. I find myself thinking—he looks competent, he’s muscley, looks strong…he looks like he could run a farm, keep the place going, handle the animals, the equipment...plow some fields…I find myself catching my breath at where my thoughts are going.

O.K., back to Joe. His glasses are off and his face, huge on the projection screen, is incredibly beautiful. He has luscious dark hair and beautiful features that he knows how to work perfectly when he sings. Either that or it just comes naturally. He has that Peter Pan grin that girls can’t help but fall for. He never stops moving, and his movements are graceful and forceful at the same time—aggression and beauty, energy and flow, everything the world loves in young men’s bodies. When he does stop, it is to strike a perfect pose, head back and singing. After the head tilt, he will often flash his eyes at the crowd, and thus the camera, so his eyes flash 30 feet high in the air on the screens. The girls scream, and any mother who is not dead in her heart feels a shudder in her thighs, because she already knows where that look leads. An image comes to my mind of being 15, a group of us teens set loose at an older brother’s party—we were sent to the rec room with a few bottles of Champagne (these were different times). I drink the Champagne in gulps, knowing no better. The boy I’m hanging out with seems even more interesting to me. I am dolled up in a rose colored dress that falls mid-thigh. I sink back into a couch, head light, and my boy pal plops down next to me. I spill Champagne on my thighs, and we are just drunk enough that he licks the Champagne off my thighs while we both laugh with delight. That was Joe, that is Joe, that will always be Joe.

Kevin continues to work his guitars—he changes axes frequently—mastering them all. He’s solid, skillful, careful fingering, but strong…another boy comes to mind, and then a rush of images—the boy I worked with in the ice cream parlor, who would flex his muscles while clearing up, the strong baseball player who was quiet but methodical. And now, how just occasionally (before I get too old), I catch a man looking at me in that capable way…the kind of man that elicits this response (to quote a colleague of mine)—“oh, I’ll roll my eyes back and he can tip me over!” Tip me over, I’ve already given it up, my legs are spreading…I’m panting, anticipating the strength that will take me…(remember how Mel Gibson could make you feel before he went crazy?) I hear girls screaming—wait! isn’t this a wholesome concert?

O.K., composure…let’s turn to Nick. Nick is 15, sweet looking, a soft face framed by curls—the poet. He goes to the piano and sings a song about hard times, based on his diagnosis with Type I diabetes. He sings of how he hurts, but how he survives, how he makes it "after a little while." He’s the boy every girl wants to take care of—he’s artistic, sensitive, and cute.

Tearing my eyes from Joe’s features and Kevin’s crotch, I come to the realization that these three young men are the triumvirate of every female longing—the holy trinity of female sexual desire—the capable, strong man, the boastful bad boy bursting with grace and energy, and the poet that needs to be taken care of and will always be sensitive to your feelings. And these three archetypes were not brought together by a marketing genius; they were born into the same family! How can this be? The gods have graced us!

While I consider this (amidst screaming, singing, guitars, bass, strings, flying drums sticks, etc., etc.), the boys are cranking it up to a fever pitch. They tumble over each other in gymnastic moves, the run up and down the stairs of the stage, the run out to runways on the stage. Then all three run back to center stage and are each handed something by roadies. At first I think they are small guitars. Are they all going to play mandolins? And then I get his uncomfortable feeling that the instruments they are holding look suspiciously like the contraptions used by doctors and psychiatrists a hundred years ago to cure women of “hysteria” by providing them with intercourse via machine. O.K., so they are holding things that look like slightly scary sex toys, and I have no idea where this is going. Well, the boys run out to three points of the stage, and it turns out the mystery instruments are foam guns. Yes, that’s right: the boys proceed to spray the crowd with the white foam, while the spotlights pans over the squirting streams, making them sparkle and glisten as they fall on the crowds. By now I am laughing hysterically, and Katie asks me “Mom, what's wrong?’ with genuine concern. I say “Nothing, I’m just laughing—it’s funny that all these people are getting foam on them!” She laughs and says “yes,” but thankfully is too young to read into the image. I look at the other adults around me and wonder why no one else is laughing—how can no one else be getting this joke of flying sperm? And then Joe takes a running leap and slides knee first through the foam to the end of the runway. When I look at the sweat pouring down Joe’s face and body, I can’t help but thinking—I’d like to lick that sperm, uh, foam, oh, I mean sweat, off your chest….

I take some time to look at the other parents. There is a mom to my right who is falling asleep. Anther mom in front of me looks suspiciously Ann Coulter-ish. She is standing perfectly still, taping the whole concerts on her iPhone. And she has bulging biceps. Creepy. Where are the moms with twinges in their bellies, and fires in their loins?

I am exhausted. I need to remember that I don’t have the energy of the young, and they can keep it up. Soon I see the boys being lifted high above the stage, each on his own Greek column, all the while they are singing and playing. This is it, I think—I am at a festival for Aphrodite. Gather all the girls, just before they get their periods, and initiate them into the mysteries, right? Doesn’t involve any actual sex, just lots of sexual symbolism, to prepare them for what their bodies will be going through. And we have the three gods of women’s sexual desire on columns above us, ready for worship.

I think of the images of naked women I used to hate seeing on the Sopranos—the pole dancing girls who had no personalities, just bodies. This is what is different between men and women. Sure, women will look at male bodies, but we have to be able to project a personality type onto that body for it to be desirable. We need our archetypes. The archetypes make it strong, make the pull real, and make us want to tip back, legs spread. Gets us in trouble, but can also make us fall in love and lead to a real relationship.

So my Jonas Brothers, don’t go telling me you are good, clean fun. You are sexual and you are powerful. You may not even know it, but you are performing a valuable public service—getting girls in touch with their desires in a safe, controlled way. No way their minds are roaming as widely as mine—I’m grown up, so I am graphic. The girls are left with tingles and crushes, which will turn someday into real attachments, and hopefully some Champagne being licked off their legs.


Record Store Day

Bob Burnett: Yesterday (April 19) was Record Store Day, and I celebrated at Jackpot Records in Portland, Oregon. Jackpot Records is just the type of small, indy, downtown shop I love to discover while traveling. I pored through the nice selection and enjoyed the in-store music being played--some sort of electronica mix disc by a friend of the shop type thing.......in fact, while it was playing I recognized strands of an '80s Bill Nelson instrumental from The Love That Whirls, mentioned it to the guy working there and said I hadn't heard it in probably 20 years. How often does that happen at Wal-Mart? For those keeping score at home I also picked up the amazing Pylon compilation, Gyrate+, Matthew Herbert's Score and a DVD of the excellent Luna documentary Tell Me Do You Miss Me. I gigglingly eyed some of the 180 gram vinyl selections they have too----including Gary Numan & the Tubeway Army's Replicas. I did ponder over a vinyl copy on the collectable wall of an Anthony Braxton trio on Arista from the '70s I know to be hopelessly out of print......but......ah.......I'll be back in Portland in a few weeks. Maybe it'll still be there.

I hope you had a bountiful Record Store Day too.


Grizzly Bear: Horn of Plenty

Bob Burnett: I just got this album.....in fact, I'd never listened to it before about a half-hour ago, which makes this a spontaneous listen-write kind of moment. I don't know if it's because I'm watching an early morning rain with the popping greens, yellows and purples of April surrounding me while listening but I'm finding this gentle, multifaceted listen to be quite interesting. What I've discovered about Grizzly Bear is it's spearheaded by Edward Droste and was intended to be a solo effort, however Christopher Bear was added to the process and between them they created a colorful, quiet Syd Barrett-meets American Analog Set kind of musical moment. I also know that the Grizzly Bear name pops up on Dntel's aforementioned and terrific album Dumb Luck.

A few other recent positive discoveries: a live version of Brian Eno's Music for Airports by Bang On A Can All Stars and Mia Doi Todd's Gea.


The Honeydrips: Here Comes The Future

Kim Kirkpatrick: The Honeydrips is a recent release on the Swedish label, Sincerely Yours. The band is actually the work of one man, Mikael Carlsson. He is clearly a musician who has heard a lot of contemporary music, an informed artist, which is a plus in my opinion. And if you’ve been missing the music of the Sarah Records Label, well, skip my review and buy it now. The Honeydrips’ rock with a driving beat and pace like The Field Mice or The Orchids, and go twee like Brighter and St. Christopher. Much of the music is soft and sweet, and most all of the songs are recorded with a huge and cascading reverb atmosphere. More then half the songs have a dance beat to them, along the lines of New Order* or Trembling Blue Stars, very catchy, get-stuck-in-your-head pop.

Carlsson’s vocals seem spoken, average, in a way that I like. Not a great singer by some standards but he sounds real and unaffected…well he does have a few British-accentuated moments, and is assisted on a few songs by wispy, heavenly female vocals. Acoustic guitars chime throughout, chorus-affected electric’s jangle; some nice distorted bass is on a few songs as well. On “The Walk” for instance, it starts with an insistent, sparse Motown beat, in seconds a giant tambourine and bright, crystalline guitar start up, and all is ready to roll when the fuzzy bass and cavernous lead guitar add their touches. The melody of this song and many, many others are so catchy they will plant themselves in your head for hours. That is the sign of excellent, pure pop, and Here Comes The Future reminds me of many a British band from the 'eighties and that ever-changing scene of catchy singles you’d overplay and then move on.

While many an indie pop band from past decades could me name-checked here, The Honeydrips’ music is more then just a recreation. Mikael Carlsson’s music is informed by the past and formed into an intricate 21st Century blend of beats, softness, and rock. It is a pleasure to hear The Honeydrips—fun and smiles quickly surface for this listener.

*Carlsson even brings a much-loved New Order melody into "It Was A Sunny Summer Day."



DMG's Bruce and Manny

Bob Burnett: Please read the note below from one of my favorite places in the galaxy--Downtown Music Gallery in NYC. I hope someone knows someone who knows someone in real estate...... can help them out.

At the end of this past January, our five-year lease ran out here at 342 Bowery. Our landlord has graciously given us another 3-6 months to find another place but, with 4 to 5 times the rent we're paying being offered by bar/restaurantsfor the space our stay will come to an end soon.

We have been searching for a new location for the past 6 months, but if it's anything close to the 1500 sq. ft. we now occupy and need, no matter how far east we go, the realtors are convincing the landlords to hold off renting until they get a minimum of $ 60-75 per sq ft per year - which for 1500 sq ft means a monthly base rent nut of $7500-9400 - even on Ave D, where no one ventures to!

The only people who can afford that are banks that now make a tidy new-found profit off of people taking $20 out of their account every ten minutes [!] and national chains and boutique franchises that take a tax loss to blanket NYC with their outlets.

Anyone in NYC knows there are many spaces - in both prime and not prime areas - that have remained empty for YEARS due to realtors who have sold their bill of goods to landlords - when we've met those landlords, many have lamented the money they've lost due to the pressure from realtors, and were perfectly willing to talk lower prices, when beforehand the agent said they wouldn't budge.

What we would like is a basement, second floor or higher loft space [with elevator] with about 1,500 square feet for under $4000, hopefully in lower Manhattan - we don't really care what it looks like, or what some snobs might have to say about the neighborhood, just as long as it's secure. We'll do the rest.

We would love to stay in the Lower Manhattan, but we might have to move to mid-town or further uptown or even nearby in Brooklyn or Queens

If you know of a space for us to rent - especially where we deal with the landlord directly - please contact us immediately!

Our time here is limited. We may have to go with one overpriced space - that otherwise meets our needs - within two weeks, so we'd like to hear from you before then

Thank You
Bruce, Manny, Mikey, Chuck, Bret & all at DMG

Firestone Audio Supplier: Delightful Sidekick

Mike Johnston: Regular readers will remember my efforts to improve my computer sound system, reported in an article called "The Moo-Fubar," from January 3rd of this year. Well, the folks at Audiophile Products, U.S. importers of the various wacky mini-components from Australia's Firestone Audio, discovered the review, liked it, and sent me (for free! Woo-hoo! A veritable perk! Years of online writing pay off at long last!) Firestone's "Supplier."

Supplier is simply an upgraded power supply for the Firestone Audio Fubar III USB DAC / headphone amp unit. It replaces the wall-wart power supply that comes stock with the Fubar III. It can also be used with most of the other Firestone components.

It takes about eight seconds to plug it in—there's no mystery to how to do it, no need to refer to the instructions that come with it.

It also takes no skill or subtlety whatsoever to hear the immediate and obvious improvement it makes in the sound quality. My immediate reaction was simply: "wow."

Of course, all it's really doing is allowing the Fubar III to strut its stuff unimpeded; but without the Supplier, you're only hearing the shadow of how good the Fubar III really is. The illusion, though, once you add it, is that Supplier is doing all the heavy lifting, which makes the little red-faced box with the radioactive warrior on the front seem like magic.

The longer I muck about in audio, the more convinced I am that electricity is the source of all improvement. Indeed, one way to look at the history of high-end audio is to see it merely as a continual process of adding bigger, better, and cleaner power supplies to hi-fi components. There was more to it than that, but that's one way to boil it down.

The Supplier makes a huge difference in the Moo-Fubar sound—greatly increased clarity and presence, immediacy, detail, image focus and size, timbre differences between instruments, impact and percussiveness of drums. Ensemble jazz is definitely back in the picture. Generally just makes the music sound so much more alive and vivid. I've spent day after day listening to album after album, awash in lovely sound.

Mostly—through the NHT Pro M-00's, at least, which are acoustic suspension (!) powered speakers—where the Supplier makes perhaps the most difference is with drums. Tuning, impact, leading edges, decays, from the delicacy of the high hat to the impactful thwack of a bass drum. The whole drum kit—especially on good recordings, but even on not-so-good ones—just comes into its own.

Detail is greatly improved. The Moos are still warm, rich-sounding little speakers, but the Supplier lets the Fubar open up the mix. You hear much more of what's going on.

Timbre and texture is a dramatic improvement, and makes different instruments sound so much more like themselves. Instruments suddenly seem to have individual character. From the astringent, articulated bass lines on Slint's "Darlene" (from "Tweez"), to the rolling, vamping solo sax on Sonny Rollins's "It Could Happen to You" (off "The Sound of Sonny"), the sounds just pull you in like a magnet.

Nothing's perfect—sometimes fortissimos can have an edgy hardness with the volume up, and sometimes I think these electronics mess with the balance of the mix a little. But that's probably because they let you hear so much of it—something that's veiled through lesser gear is exposed. These are minor faults.

The illusion of space and the position of instruments is much better, too. Hey, it's a computer system—it's not going to sound like a full-sized stereo rig. But you can follow complex musical arguments much more easily when you can hear all the instruments and differentiate them from each other. Andrew Hill just got a lot more enjoyable.

Overall what I think this new box does is it takes the computer sound from "almost good enough" to "better than good enough," a swing across a narrow but crucial juncture. After two months with the M-00 speakers and the Fubar III, I'd gotten used to its sound. I think we tend to get accustomed to any kind of sound if it's what we happen to have to listen to. It's just that bad sound quality (like I have in my car) sometimes obtrudes with reminders of just how bad it is (and doesn't let you really hear the music—which is okay in the car, I guess, since I already know by heart 98% of what they play on local radio). Decent, middling sound quality is mainly good enough but can still be somewhat fatiguing, so every now and then you find yourself turning the music down or off just to get a rest from it. Really good sound you get used to as well, but there are constant obtrusions of delight: something sounds just so rich and scrumptious that it calls attention to the pure gorgeousness of its sound quality and makes you really concentrate on what the musicians are doing. And if it's also sufficiently transparent, neutral, and accurate, you just don't get tired of listening to it. The music keeps calling me away from my work. The sound quality is whispering, "Yo, listen to this." Familiar old records are a profusion of tumbling delights, one following another.

Again, the Fubar III gets a lot of the credit. But that's where I am with the Fubar III with the Supplier power supply. As far as USB DAC units to replace your computer's soundcard are concerned, there might be better units out there—there should be, theoretically, since you can spends thousands of dollars on some of them. But the Fubar III/Supplier is just very, very good. Buy them together, or buy the Fubar III first and then add a Supplier later. (Actually, the latter appeals to me, because then you'll find out just how much difference the power supply makes—and then you'll be just as delighted as I am.) If you have, or want, a Fubar III, the Supplier is not just highly recommended: get it sooner or get it later, but it's truly a mandatory option.

Thanks to Todd B. at Audio Products


Psychic Ills: Dins

Kim Kirkpatrick: Psychic Ills is a Brooklyn-based band with a musical style that fuses psychedelic, post rock, and tribal sounds into a dense, mesmerizing sound. Dins is their first full length CD, released (and purchased by me) in 2006, but only opened this year*. I find it fits comfortably within my varied musical taste.

My interest in rock/pop started with The Beatles and I was in my prime teenage listening years during the psychedelic period of rock music. Given my decades of listening, I am critical and dismissive of music I find inferior to that which came before it. Contemporary bands lauded as “psychedelic,” for instance, I usually find to be lacking or superficial. Happily, Psychic Ills is not such a band, and they connect with so much more then just the ‘sixties, “mind-blowing” experience.

Dins can be linked to such 'sixties bands as Quicksilver Messenger Service, United States of America, Ultimate Spinach, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, and The Velvet Underground (of course), to name a few. In particular I appreciate Psychic Ill’s Eastern influence-the droning and the snake-like guitar playing. This influence was a big part of the 'sixties sound and it is still appealing to me. Psychic Ills nails the feeling and drops in a bit of reverberating Surf (The Mermen come to mind) for extra effect. Coming up a few more years, Psychic Ills connect with many a favorite band: Popul Vuh, Can (including the vocals), Neu, early Kraftwerk, etc. Bands big on atmosphere, expansive songs, with purposeful repetition. Psychic Ills share with these bands a strong, driving, tribal percussion, capable of inducing a night of dancing (be it Grateful Dead- or Rave-related for the listener). Dins shows off the band's sharp edge and free playing, relatable to early Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, and Yo La Tengo at their live best.

Psychic Ill’s Dins is a release I can put on repeat and enjoy for numerous plays, never sure where I am at any particular moment but not wanting to leave either. It is a complete release, functioning best as a whole, and speaks well of the band’s direction and skills. In addition to Dins they also have a CD out of early singles called Early Violence. Both are on the Brooklyn-based label Social Registry and are available on vinyl.

*I have always liked to have music squirreled away I have not heard, though the backlog can get ridiculous at times.


Masada: Beeroth (Joey Baron at his best!)

Bob Burnett: Enjoy!!!! It was always a moment of magic to experience John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen and Joey Baron (Masada) in a live environment. I have about a foot and a half of their recordings and treasure them all.


Mia Doi Todd: Manzanita

Bob Burnett: Having previously mentioning my enthusiasm for Jimmy Tamborello's Dntel release Dumb Luck, I've begun doing digital forensic research on the guest vocalists he features. One particularly wonderful song, "Rock My Boat" highlights Mia Doi Todd's lovely singing. I searched around and discovered Mia Doi Todd's 2005 album Manzanita and its re-mix follow-up La Ninja: Amour and other dreams of Manzanita. Manzanita was Mia's fifth album; she's led an interestingly life full of Eastern studies, Yale, playing in New York City clubs, etc. and the fifth album maturity shines through nicely--as done her refined, elegant voice. I'm especially drawn to the quiet moments with simple acoustic guitar and piano--most notably is "Muscle, Blood and Bone" and is time-stopping perfect. I don't quite get going to the rock steadyish "Casa Nova" as the next cut, but that's just me. Plenty more solid material here to make up for that.

La Ninja is a nice variations on a theme of Manzanita--and as is the case with re-mix projects in general, some work and some make you move on to the next cut. It features re-mixes by "friends of Mia" such as Dntel and c60 favorite, Chessie. There are three vastly different re-mixes of the song "My Room is White" as well as three additional tracks not featured on Manzanita including an interesting version of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood". Both are available at emusic and were released by Plug Research.


Kanye West, 50 Cent, Anberlin, Smashing Pumpkins and High School Musical

Bob Burnett: The c60 board of directors got into an email discussion about the Grammys yesterday--specifically the merits of Herbie Hancock's The River winning an award. Out of that discussion we were led into e-chat about what our kids are currently listening to. We decided to focus group our live-in experts, who skew in the ages 15-11 demographic, and here are the results:

Thomas' picks:

Hate It or Love It-The Game & 50 cent (my favorite song, ever)
Hustler's Ambition-50 cent
It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop(remix)-Dead Prez
Shadow of the Day-Linkin Park
Remember the Name-Fort Minor
Grew Up a Screw Up-Ludacris
Heart of the City-Jay-z
In da Club-50 cent
Hip Hop Police-Chamillionaire
Diamonds of Sierra Leone-Kanye West

Zander's Favorites:

Smashing Pumpkins
Silversun Pickups
Rage Against the Machine
Flogging Molly
Red Hot Chili Peppers (not their new stuff)
System of a Down
Minor Threat
Marilyn Manson
Alice in Chains
Queens of the Stone Age

Kendra's Picks:

After the Tragedy
Bow Wow Wow
Built to SPill
Mayday Parade
My Chemical Romance
Pencey Prep
Oh No Not Stereo
Three Days Grace
Violent Femmes

Klara's and Jenna's Picks:

Hillary Duff
Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus
Jonas Brothers
High School Musical 1 and 2
"...and don't forget Low by Flo-rida and T-Pain" said Jenna


Willits+Sakamoto: Ocean Fire

Bob Burnett: This morning I delved into Other Music's digital page to discover a new collaborative effort that I was interested to hear. Ocean Fire is a duet improvisation between "digital age"guitarist/custom-built software player Christopher Willits and composer/synthesist/pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto. The duet works from the perspective of creating a soundtrack for the ocean and does so with immense washes of sound that ebb and flow in a manner like the tides. There are natural connections here to Sakamoto's duet works with "the other" digital age guitarist Christian Fennesz, however this collaborative works in a non-defined sound sculpture mode more than a formal chordal compositional approach. I'm finding great attraction to Christopher Willits' contributions on this album--in fact it led me to explore a few of his solo offerings, most notably the excellent solo abstraction Folding, and the Tea as well as the much more linear Surf Boundaries. Willits comes with an impressive resume--notably a Mills College Master's degree where he studied under the tutelage of c60 stalwarts Pauline Oliveros and Fred Frith. Before Mills he was active in a wider range of creative outlets including video art, sound art/installation, painting and music.

I'm finding great excitement in the listening experiences offered by the current generation where the guitar and keyboard are being redefined as genre-breaking instruments crossing multiple platforms of exploration and legacy. It's engaging to see how the generations of sound designers continue to evolve--that which was first noticed in 1948 with John Cage using alligator clips and other hardware store devices on the strings of a piano for Sonata and Interludes to Fred Frith's early '70s work which expanded textural and rhythmic qualities possible for guitar to this generation's developing new approaches works to open the doors to further possibility. Ocean Fire is a great addition in the legacy of improvisation and sound expansion.


dublab just played Luna and The Sea and Cake

Bob Burnett: I just started listening again to the online "radio" music environment dublab. For any number of reasons dublab fell off my listening list for awhile after a long run of enthusiastically enjoying what they were about. Well, a few stars just aligned for me--the show I stumbled upon today was called "The Heavenly Music Corporation" which is Fripp and Eno code for "oooh what a great album". The second reason was the "Heavenly" DJ played a great Luna instrumental from the Luna EP release as well as back-to-back cuts by The Sea and Cake.

I fell back into dublab because I discovered Jimmy Tamborello (aka electronica musician/curator Dntel as well as Postal Service) is a regular program host of the program "Dying Songs". There is currently an archived program of his that starts with a cut by The Durutti Column. I can't recall the last time I heard a Vini Reilly/Durutti Column cut on "the radio"; probably in 1982 when most likely either Kim or I played one on a radio show someplace.......also.....I am becoming fond of the most recent Dntel CD Dumb Luck. As is usually the case with Dntel, Tamborello's melodic, creative, pulsating music feature a wide range of guest vocalists. (ie Ed Droste/Grizzly Bear, Valerie Trebeljahr/Lali Puna, Mia Doi Todd, Jenny Lewis for example...) There is a subtle soulfulness on Dumb Luck that meshes well with soft acoustic guitar and many simple beat "downtempo" songs. The album causes me to repeat my ongoing mantra: why isn't THIS on the radio? Seriously, why is what's on the radio, on the radio??? Don't puzzle and puzzle 'til your puzzler is sore, I know there isn't a clearcut answer. I've been asking that question since Fleetwood Mac Rumours was a runaway bestseller while Fotheringay's self-titled masterpiece managed a small but fervent following.


AGF: Westernization Completed

Bob Burnett: I don't need art to make clearly defined sense. I don't need lyrics or poetry to connect with me in specific, descriptive, tangible ways. I'm fine with non-linear/non-"musical" sounds playing a part in "music". That's my way of approaching a few initial sentences about an album I frequently enjoy and have often thought of writing about but never quite got my bearings to conceive how to describe what I was hearing. I'm referring to Antye's Greie-Fuch's work as AGF, specifically the album Westernization Completed. Antye grew up in Communist Berlin when the wall still existed . She still calls Berlin home and creates in many ways---as a digital poet, sound constructionist, multi-media collaborator/general all-around interesting software-based sculptor of ideas in multiple realms of artistic expression. Westernization Completed was produced in 2003. At times it is fragmented and jagged, other moments floating and spacious. Her German-accented English lyrical approach touches mainly on visual images but in a way that is deeply personal and introspective. I often wonder when listening to this album if it was inspired specifically by her childhood in the environment of East Germany, where her most engaging playthings were her eyes, ears and mind and the ability to shape mundane action into rewarding articulations of the world around her. Westernization Completed has an auditory complexity that is constantly shifting and stimulating. It is an "urban" album for me--it shifts, shapes and interconnects the sound environment in a manner that reminds me of being in a city when sound, visuals, light and motion seem to come together in an engaging choreography that allows you to step back into the moment and "observe" everything simultaneously. Greie- Fuchs is very web aware and uses her webpage as another example of a creative canvas to expand her artistry and share examples of collaborative efforts. I suggest in addition to her AGF work checking into her minimovie collaborative with Sue C. and if you are really looking for an interesting challenge, her sound collages with Zavoloka. She also works with her partner Vladislav Delay--however I've yet to explore their work. And don't forget her excellent "pop" duet with Jotka called Laub.

Many of these releases and more are available directly online or linked by Greie-Fuchs via AGF Produktion.

Exploring the work of AGF is a rewarding experience. Enjoy.


Sun Ra Arkestra: The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra

Bob Burnett: 1961 was a transitional time for the Sun Ra Arkestra. The group made the jump to New York City after spending 1954-61 in Chicago. They also signed with the Savoy label and the first studio outing in October found them creating The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra. This album is an excellent port of entry to the Sun Ra Arkestra if you've been looking for a way to approach the huge archive and sometimes difficult music of one of the 20th century masters. The Futuristic sound reflects the highly bop-laced, tightly arranged and executed music the seven piece ensemble was making at the time; it's sideways Ellington--and I mean that in a very reverent way. Sun Ra's piano grooves with fat, rolling chords and meditative solos. John Gilmore plays bass clarinet and tenor sax and is joined frequently in solos and heads by Marshall Allen's flute, alto sax and handcrafted morrow, an instrument that consisted of a clarinet mouthpiece joined with a wooden flute. Pat Patrick's baritone sax also plays a major part. There's terrific percussion--performed en masse by the Arkestra--most notably "The Beginning" and "New Day" where strains of paleolithic Stravinsky meet the pulse of santeria.
The album was produced by Tom Wilson, whose production credits later included The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out!, Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home as well as the single "Like A Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited and (oh yeah...!!!!) some album called The Velvet Underground and Nico. The Futuristic Sounds... was nicely re-mastered in 2003 and sounds very contemporary.

I call The Futuristic Sounds.. a point of entry into Sun Ra because I personally know the toll it can take if you incorrectly compute your atmospheric trajectory when approaching The Arkestra; you can easily bounce back into space and miss out for years to come. I recall trying to start with Live in Montreux 1976 as a teenager and running away very fast...overwhelmed but luckily unbloodied--however the album remained shelved for more than a decade ....luckily I discovered the Evidence label's deep archive when I was slightly older and somewhat wiser to the ways of Ra and was able to ramp my way all the way into the inner depths of spatial exploration. (albums such as Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy/Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow for example)

Please explore what Sun Ra left; it makes for fascinating and unique listening experiences. I suggest reading through Robert Campbell's discography to gain a deeper understanding of the Sun Ra Arkestra's body of work.


Sten Sandell Trio+ John Butcher:Strokes

Bob Burnett: Continuing with my fascination with Lisbon-based label Clean Feed, I recently fell under the spell of Strokes. Sten Sandell's piano leads this improvisational outing--along with bassist Johan Berthling (also part of the excellent electronica/ambient/accordion trio Tape) and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love and added guest saxophonist /electro-acoustic and feedback "player" John Butcher. Strokes is made up of three compositions--two 25+minute extended pieces ("Study" and "Unsteady") make up the main body of the album. Each is unique in its approach to exploration but are rooted in moments of quiet, tense, building energy with subtle shifts in texture and pulse. The separating and advancing factor in this music is the use of electronics and feedback. I am smitten with John Butcher's ability to expand the traditional range of the saxophone by adding new dimensions with the use of feedback usually associated with guitar. His whole sax becomes a sound device--the music "feels" like the entire sax is a contact mic, each touch becoming a new sound creation. Interspersed throughout are electronic squalls and burbles which add wonderfully to the sonic scape. Sandell's piano is clustered, engaged and intense; reminiscent of an expanded, spacious Cecil Taylor.
Granted, this session gets "out" and aggressive at times but that energy is earned; as a listener you are ramped into the intensity--not dropped into it and overwhelmed.

This is a fine work by a group that knows and experiences music beyond "jazz"--you can hear the roots of Cecil Taylor and Evan Parker here but also Sandell's other influences such as Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman and Derek Bailey. A highly recommended adventure--it's available as a download on emusic.com.


iPOD Random Shuffle: Jan 2008

Bob Burnett: Just had the following sequence as the soundtrack for a winter walk in the central Virginia woods.

Trentemoller: "Vamp" (The Last Resort)
Robin Holcomb: "SAAM #1" (John Brown's Body)
Tom Verlaine: "Orbit" (Songs and Other Things)
Fennesz:"Good Man" (Field Recordings)
Antonio Carlos Jobim: "Lamento" (The Man From Impanema)
Sun Ra: "Looking Outward" (The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra)
Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda: "Something From the Past"(Duets)
Wilco: "Walken" (Sky Blue Sky)
Thievery Corporation: "Heaven's Going to Burn Your Eyes" (The Richest Man in Babylon)
Robert Fripp: "NY3" (Exposure)
Ornette Coleman: "Storytellers" (In All Languages)
Eno: "Sky Saw" (Another Green World)
John Cage: ASLSP 6 (Mode Piano Works)



Bob Burnett: In early February, the "trainscape" duet of Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes (aka Chessie) will release Manifest on the Plug Research label, their first album since 2001's Overnight which landed them on The New York Times' Best of 2001 list. Manifest is their fourth full length release--fifth if you count Suburban Shore by Camping--a bossa nova-tinged project they were involved with which was reviewed on c60 about a year ago.

I suppose it would be nice to review a Chessie release without falling immediately into making reference to their being rooted in train-inspired soundscapes......however....that's what they do--- and that's what they do beautifully. Accusing Chessie of making too many "trainscapes" would be like saying Monet painted too many haystacks. Chessie creates music which integrates the feel and pulse of trains with sonic imaginary rail-based landscapes by using a wide range of musical colors. From shimmering guitars to subtle washes, Manifest is a complete album's worth of music; a wonderfully connected listening experience. The meticulous craft of their efforts shines effectively throughout; Stephen's guitar is warm and full, subtle chords mix with a wide range of textures to wash many compositions in lovely harmonies. In addition to the quiet, introspective moments, there are times of melodic (German band) Contriva-inspired popish phrases on Manifest which work wonderfully for me. Go to Chessie's webpage to hear a few Manifest selections. Chessie's myspace page offers a few cuts to listen to from past work--hopefully upon official release of Manifest they'll upload some new choices there too, plus the duo is planning to take Manifest on the road performing live.


Don Letts: Culture Clash (Dread Meets Punk Rockers)

Bob Burnett: Don Letts, with the aid of writer David Nobakht, has released an oral history-style book, Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers, about his active life that has intermeshed music, DJ'ing, film-making, fashion and general global cultural merging. It's been well-documented that Letts was in the thick of the London music scene circa mid-'70s where bands such as The Clash, Sex Pistols, Siouxie and the Banshees, etc. played at the Roxy and other small clubs. Letts' legendary reggae and dub-centric mix cassette tapes (known as c90's) inspired and fueled many bands' creative energies--(most notably his close friends John Lydon /PiL and the late Joe Strummer/The Clash) plus were the pulse of many house parties. It was nice to read through this book and see mention made of some great albums--a personal favorite being the late Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown and Tappa Zukie's Man Ah Warrior for instance, as well as nods to other reggae/dub artists such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Yabby U, I Roy, Bob Marley, Big Youth, Sly and Robbie, Mad Professor and Lee "Scratch" Perry. This is a great resource if you've always wanted to know more about Jamaican-based music (ie. nyabinghi, dub, rock steady, dancehall, reggae) and hadn't known where to start. Just read this book, jot down people and album titles and search them out. (I suggest starting with Augustus Pablo.) As a side recommendation, if you are looking for a nice reggae compilation CD check into Don Letts Presents The Mightly Trojan Sound, a 2xCD compilation. Disc one is singers, players and DJ's--great dancehall and rock steady "pop tune" selections circa 1969-1978. Disc two is the dub disc--floating, liquidy, spacy instrumentals. It's easy to imagine these sounds floating through the streets of London's Chelsea neighborhood when Letts was running the popular clothing store, Acme Attractions. All selections are from the vaults of the Trojan label.

The book also features short commentary on the body of documentary work he's done over the years--including the comprehensive (and highly entertaining ) Punk:Attitude as well as films on The Clash, Bob Marley, Gil Scott-Heron, George Clinton and Sun Ra.


The Clean playing at Other Music

Bob Burnett: I just happened across Other Music's webpage today to discover a nice 9 minute video clip they put together of a recent in-store gig by New Zealand's The Clean. If you are a long time c60 reader you'll recognize The Clean from a review Kim did of guitarist David Kilgour's excellent solo album, The Far Now.

On the strength of Kilgour's album (and at Kim's suggestion) I got The Clean: Anthology and really can't believe I completely missed this band from the late '70s through the '90s when they were releasing albums.

As is usually the case, Kim knew and was there to share so that I didn't totally miss out. So was Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo who wrote:
"I've spent more time loving the Clean in the last 25 years than any other band, and I probably can't describe why. But when any one of them — Hamish or David or Robert — start singing, I melt."
I'm sure none of this un-ruffles the musical feathers over the fact that Kim tried to get me to go see David Kilgour with him when he was on a (very rare) solo tour in DC recently.......and I was "too tired"........I must have known deep down there was no way he'd ever re-capture the moment the Other Music environment offered The Clean, right? A moment where the guitar and bass warmly and tastefully resonated beautifully, Hamish magically traded drums for tabla......their intuition at the top of their collective game.....nah......no way...right? Right?

Sorry Kim.........


Panda Bear:Person Pitch

Bob Burnett: I had eight emusic downloads left on my monthly "use 'em or lose 'em" account. I cashed them in on Animal Collective member Noah Lennox's (aka Panda Bear) solo project Person Pitch. Man, what a great choice that turned out to be!

Person Pitch is getting a little public relations bump in awareness these days because online review site Pitchfork just voted it their 2007 album of the year. Although I far from swear by Pitchfork's opinions, it made me curious to hear it---that and a little more research revealed Person Pitch to be equally cherished as it is despised by some listeners as a faddish, over-rated release. The sterno-esque flash point for many is Lennox's vocal quality having vast similarities to Beach Boys/Brian Wilson--circa Pet Sounds......too similar for some listeners but okay by me. Lennox overlaps his voice tracks and drenches them in reverb. Lyrics are distorted and almost unrecognizable in a Radiohead manner. The Beach Boys connection ends there for me. Brian Wilson carefully crafted songs with hooks, bridges, tight arrangements and intricate harmonies, Noah Lennox creates a series of Terry Riley-inspired repetitive drone/modal sound adventures. There is a Simon and Garfunkel "Cecelia"-tinged pop catch to everything but in a spacious, rhythm-evolving, multi-sound loop way. There's nothing guitar-bass-drum about this work; the album was put together digitally by Lennox at his home in Lisbon over a period of years. It took vast amounts of sampling, looping, mixing board choreography and performance. I've just begun listening to Person Pitch but am very enthusiastic about many future listens. I get the feeling this is going to become one of my iPOD favorites.


Bob's first week of January Playlist

The Dave Pike Set: INFRA-RED
Aaron Copland: SYMPHONY No. 3

Bob Burnett: 2008 started well for me with a few re-visits and some new things. "Panda Bear" is Noah Lennox's (of Animal Collective) solo project which is being lauded as one of the best of 2007--as well as one of the most overrated in 2007 by others. I'm finding it to be a pretty interesting listen; more details once I spend some headphone time with it. The Dave Pike Set is something I heard playing in a CD shop recently and bought it on the spot. (yes, the cover is THAT purple) I was drawn to its '70s progressive/jazz/retro DJ material sound. Contriva has released a bunch of previously vinyl only singles on emusic (so I snagged 'em), Dntel's electronica/blip/scratch-n-drift circuitry on Dumb Luck is really starting to seep in deeply and the rest on the list were re-listens to some old stand bys.


Colleen: Les Ondes Silencieuses

Bob Burnett: I was originally drawn to Colleen's work via a clip on youtube that I posted on c60 a bit back. From that connection, I pursued her work--discovering three full length albums and one ep. (all available via emusic for you downloaders out there) "Colleen" is the performance name of Paris-based Cécile Schott. She performs solo on her albums; somehow she manages to bring together centuries-old instruments such as the (seven-stringed and fretted like a guitar) viola de gamba and harpsichord-like spinnet with modern technology. Her myspace page offers more biographical information as well as tour schedules and other pertinent information. I'm very drawn to the minimal qualities of her work (all on the Leaf Label)--especially on this album. Her previous work relied heavier on digital samples and layered accompaniment where this album dreamily floats in several solo or duet situations. While being rooted somewhat in the mysterious sounds of baroque music simply due to the timbre of the instruments, her sound is improvisational and open---the clarinet is subtle like Jimmy Giuffre's once was, the spinnet floats in a Keith Jarrett improvisations on harpsichord manner and the beautiful tones of the viola de gamba would easily fit within a Morton Feldman composition.

There is another interesting review of this album that goes into detail about how the sound of this album was influenced back when Colleen was 15 years old and saw a film about 17th century viola de gamba player Marin Marais. I've purchased her other albums based on the strength of Les Ondes Silencieuses. Hopefully I'll have more to report on this fascinating recent discovery.


The Moo-Fubar: Improving Computer Sound

Mike Johnston: Springtime, and a young man's mind turns to thoughts of love. Wintertime, and a grumpy middle-aged man's mind turns to thoughts to USB DACs. That's right, USB DACs. Oh yeah.

Let me 'splain: like a lot of other guys of my generation, I have a stereo. (Stereos were cool to have when we were young and rock was king.) Mine's a stack of gear bought over a period of years, on a rack, flanked by a couple of British audiophile speakers. (Tannoys continue to rule, even if Britannia doesn't any more.)

The gear is esoteric partly because it was chosen idiosyncratically and partially because it's badly mismatched: two of the power cords, I'm fond of pointing out, cost more than the amplification did, which is nuts, and so there. At the top of the pile sits a magnificent, gleaming, burnished turntable that doesn't, um, work.

But except for the turntable, it all sounds pretty great. I've been meaning to get that 'table up and running again, I really have been. Item 211 on the expandable but unshrinkable to-do list, and sinking.

A couple of months ago, however, I realized that I do most of my listening sitting at the computer. The "big rig" sits silent most of the time.

I'm a photographer, and I used to do a lot of music listening in the darkroom. Nowadays the darkroom is silent too. That's because nowadays things are newfangled and you have to sit at a monitor editing and processing images. And, like the darkroom, this provides an opportunity to listen to music. An opportunity that really should not go to waste. Advantage of computer listening over darkroom listening: no whitish burble of running water in the background masking subtle sonic details. Disadvantage: no dancing. Most people don't know this, but darkrooms are to dancing what shower stalls are to singing. There; the darkroom printer's secret is out. It's no wonder I never get any exercise any more.

The other disadvantage, of course, is that computer speakers are to my big Generation Jones audiophile rig what a spindly green eco-vehicle that runs on corn and sunlight is to a fire-breathing big-block V8.

At any rate, I had been thinking about bringing the sonic competence of my computer rig up to somewhere in the same ballpark as the Rube-Goldbergian soundshow machine at the other end of the room.

That was the concept. What follows is execution.

Powered speakers on custom stands. Image processed
so you can see the fingerprints all over 'em. Er, oops...

First step: buy some powered speakers
It turns out that a computer file is a pretty great way to store music, as millions of iPod users have discovered with their MP3 and MP4 files. I use Apple lossless when I can. But the computer doesn't have much power to spare for driving a pair of speakers, which is why most computer speakers are eentsy weenie little toys like my outgoing Creative iTrigue 2200s. The first step, therefore, is to give your computer speakers some amplification muscle, which I accomplished by buying powered speakers. I did some research and ended up choosing the NHT Pro M-00, one of my two top contenders, mainly because I found a new, boxed pair on eBay for $290. I think that was a genuine deal; retail is $800, and most pairs on eBay seem to go for $399 or so. The other top contender that you might want to look at is the Audioengine, which comes in two flavors, small (the 5) and smaller (the 2). Note that the Audioengine speakers have different connectivity than the M-00's, so you're on your own there.

The M-00—those are actually two zeros—is fondly known to its partisans as the "Moo," as in the sound a cow makes. Are you old enough to remember what they used to call "The JBL sound" or "the California sound"? Thick 'n' rich 'n' beefy 'n' tasty? That's sort of the gestalt of these speakers plugged straight into the computer. I bought Lee Morgan's "Expoobident"* from emusic.com—emusic provides LAME-encoded MP3s—and the 1960 sound was thin and hard to listen to. The Moos speakers made it listenable. However sometimes things got pretty mid-bassy and congested sounding. For instance, one of the first things I listened to was King Tubby, and with the Moos his music lived up to his name.


The other problem with computer sound is that something has to provide the electronics for turning the bit 'n' bytes of the music file into an electrical signal the speakers can understand. Most computers have "soundcards" for this purpose. Soundcards have come way up in the world since my first c. 1984 Macintosh, mainly so they can provide better sound for gamers—you can actually buy fancy aftermarket soundcards now, some of which are pretty good—but for the most part you're still dealing with rudimentary circuitry that's essentially an afterthought to all the rest of the computer's circuitry, and that has to function in the interference-laden RFI soup of the computer's interior.

Enter the USB DAC. "DAC" stands for digital-to-analogue converter, or the circuitry needed to turn the digital music file into a music signal to send to the speakers. "USB" simply signifies that instead of using a cable with a 1/8th" headphone jack on one end and standard RCA connectors on the other, to plug the speakers into the computer's headphone jack, you connect the new DAC to the computer via the common and ubiquitous USB interface.

The Fubar in situ. Coffee mug artfully added to indicate scale.

There are many USB DACs, and a discussion of all the alternatives goes well beyond the scope of this little article. For two reasons, I chose the Firestone Fubar III, made in Oz, which I bought from Audiophile Products. "Fubar" is of course an acronym for "fucked up beyond all recognition," which doesn't on the surface seem like a promising name for an audio component, but then, as I've been saying, I'm no longer hip and maybe I just don't understand. I chose the Fubar for its simplicity. And its reasonable $229 pricetag. It uses the drivers already in the Mac—PCs too—so I don't have to worry about loading a custom one. That was one of its advantages, to me, since I'm a bit of a computer cretin.

It's really easy to hook up. USB cable goes between the computer and the Fubar (fortunately, the Fubar III works from a USB hub; I never have enough USB ports), Fubar plugs into the wall, two regular RCA patch cords, a.k.a. interconnects, go from the Fubar to each powered speaker. Then you just go into System Preferences –> Sound –> Output, where the system will have already recognized the Fubar—so you just click on it. Wah-lah, as they say in Fronsay.

The second reason for this choice is that the Fubar III, being essentially a headphone amp (with an itty-bitty 1/8"-pin jack, for Walkman/iPod-style 'phones! Kids these days), has a volume pot. "Pot" is cool audio-speak for potentiometer. It means "knob."

Turns out that in the world of powered speakers and USB DACs, volume control is something of a sticking point. Some USB DACs, including the boss Stello DA100 I intially lusted after, or the reportedly even better PS Audio Digital Link III, are intended to feed preamps, and don't have volume knobs. You cannot run the Stello in between the computer and a pair of powered speakers, for instance, because there would be no way to control the volume. For that you need a whole 'nuther component, which Stello also helpfully sells. Several manufacturers (classically Creek Audio, but now also including NHT) make outboard, single-box volume pots, which can be used to redress the lack of same on the DAC of your choice, although that seems a waste of a good pair of interconnects to me. But then, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

What about the SOUND?
The Fubar takes the sound of the speakers up several notches. Clearer, smoother, more detailed, punchier. I would say we've gone from the high end of low-fi (lofi = boomboxes, radios, stock car stereos) to the middle of mid-fi ( = rack systems, headphones, budget audiophile). I'm still not entirely sure about the speakers—they're very warm and punchy, with plenty of boxy coloration, probably pulling that old LS3/5a boosted mid-bass trick to make the bass seem fuller. The old "JBL sound," in the near field. I'm probably sitting too close to them and they're probably a bit too far apart. Both unavoidable, due to the size and siting of the computer. The Moos are still a bit thick, congested, treble a tad grainy on some vocals. Sounds like a good custom car stereo—rich, dynamic, musical, if not particularly accurate.

But there's one thing this rig does: it rocks. No I do not mean that in any metaphorical dude-it-rocks adolescent synonym-for-approval kind of way. I mean it ROCKS. It burns most computer speakers so badly it leaves 'em in little smoking heaps of ash. Cranked up it is clean and percussively punchy, dynamic, rich, thumpin', bitchin'. Exciting. I am going to do a lot more listening LOUD with this setup, I predict. It might even change the sort of music I prefer to listen to...as most new stereos do for me. I have a feeling ensemble jazz will be de-emphasized somewhat in my listening diet and I'll be getting back in touch with mainstream AOR.

Closing arguments
Where from here? One of my treasured components in the historical big rig is a prototype PS Audio P300 power conditioner/regenerator. I was one of the beta testers for PS Audio when that was a new product (heck, the P300 was a new product category), and Paul McGowan generously let me keep it (probably because he foresaw the difficulty of getting it back: think back to the Siege of Waco). I'm going to remove that from the main system and plug the computer, the two Moos, and the Fubar into it. I expect that will clear up the residual mains hash I can sometimes hear through the Moos when they're not playing music. At that point I'll sell off the component parts of the old floorstanding end-of-the-room system (gulp) and make the transition to the 21st century entirely.

All told, my foray into improving my computer's music-making ability cost me $553.97, putting it solidly at the budget end of such enterprises—you can spend a whole lot more on a USB DAC if you want to. The sale of the old system will more than cover the cost. I'd rate the sound at a solid 7, which is good, although maybe the Moos are on the low side of seven and the Fubar on the high side. I quite like the Fubar III: it's simple, clean, well-made, and provides a very obvious step up from the iMac's soundcard, and it's easy to install and use.

And now, back to TV on the Radio.**

*The term "expoobident," apart from being a wicked good Lee Morgan album, was coined by jazz vocalist-philosopher Babs Gonzalez in the late 1950s as an all-purpose noun-adjective-verb implying the most positive description possible.

**It's a band.

UPDATE: See my report about the "Supplier" power supply upgrade for the Fubar III here.


Wandering into 2008 with Egberto Gismonti on vinyl

Bob Burnett: I bought my first vinyl in a very long time over the holiday. I went to Orpheus Records in Arlington, Virginia and saw a copy of Egberto Gismonti's album Solo for $7 and decided to get it. I hadn't listened to this album in a very long time---but did many times when it came out in the late '70s. I think it's still available as a used CD at around $20 but I never bothered to get it. A quick check at Amazon tells me I can download mp3 files for about $10. Anyway, I bought the album. And it was fun. No, I'm not opening the vinyl vs. CD/digital file discussion. I'm just saying it was fun to flip through the bins and buy an album after such a long hiatus. It was fun to come home, open the lid on my turntable, break out the discwasher and in an almost post-modern way, listen to the album; knowing the static and pops would be there and knowing I wasn't going to fret over them like I used to when I was trapped in a vinyl only world. Besides, my audiophile brother-in-law lives down the street and he has a $600 record vac system.

I think the Gismonti vinyl re-introduction happened due to Stockhausen's death a few weeks back. At that time, I played my vinyl copy of Stockhausen's Hymnen for the first time in a long while. I quickly snapped back into the ritual of removing plastic outer bags and inner sleeves, opening gatefold covers and the delicate handling that I'd previously done tens if not hundreds of thousands of times. As with flipping through the bins at Orpheus--it was fun.

Egberto Gismonti's Solo sounded nice. It's an album made up of solo performances by the Brazilian master of piano and eight string guitar. He also does a piece for percussive "cooking bells" and voice which resonates deeply with haunting beauty. (note: Colleen has a similar cooking bell-esque piece on her Les Ondes Silencieuses album I wrote up recently---as a matter of fact, listening to Colleen stirred recollections of this album for me) Solo is a small hours listening experience; it stirs emotions and calm within you in wonderful ways. It's a shame it can't be had as a regular release. Oh well, be on the look out for it--on vinyl or cd. Gismonti has a pretty robust catalog still available. Another stand out for me is Dança Das Cabeças. (with percussionist Nana Vasconcelos) Unfortunately Folk Songs (with Charlie Haden and Jan Garbarek) seems to be OOP however is available via Amazon's (mp3 256kbps) download service for a very reasonable $5.94. I dunno....maybe Orpheus has that one on vinyl too...........uh oh............