Music Blog

All the music-related posts gathered together in one place.

CDs May Actually Sound Better Than Vinyl?

Vinyl may be making a comeback in a big way, but this long and technically informative piece in LA Weekly suggests CDs may actually sound better after all. The digital nature of CDs means it’s possible to capture an amount of dynamic range that simple wasn’t mechanically possible with vinyl.

It is a fact that vinyl sounds different from CDs. And many people prefer vinyl’s sound. But it’s not clean reproduction of a recording that makes vinyl a preferred format; it’s the affect the vinyl adds to a recording that people find pleasing.

“I think some people interpret the lack of top end [on vinyl] and interpret an analog type of distortion as warmth,” says Jim Anderson, a Grammy-winning recording engineer and professor at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. “It’s a misinterpretation of it. But if they like it, they like it. That’s fine.”

It’s also clear that the vinyl experience is about more than just sound. Pete Lyman, co-owner and chief mastering technician at Infrasonic Sound, an audio and vinyl mastering studio in Echo Park, says he believes listeners are gravitating toward vinyl for the physical experience of owning, holding and flipping an LP.

“I don’t think that [sound is] really the appeal for people right now,” Lyman says. “They like the collectability factor. They like the whole ritual and process of listening to it. They’re more engaged with the music that way.”

So, is the vinyl revival purely down to middle-aged men trying to recapture their long-lost youth? (I know of no female vinyl enthusiasts!). One reason may well be that many contemporary CDs are intended to be listened to in cars or to be ripped to iPods for listening to on public transport. So they’re given a loud compressed mastering intended to punch through background noise, making little use of the CD format’s dynamic range. In contrast, vinyl recording are sold to be played on Big Expensive Stereos.

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Quote of the Day

From a Guardian piece on Eddie Bo, the gentleman of soul who never got his due:

“James [James Black, drummer] was also an accomplished trumpet player,” Bo recalled. “On that day, the trumpet player was doing his part on From This Day On, but it was too complicated. I was getting frustrated with him. In the end, James took the trumpet from him, and hit him in the head with it – bent it. Then he said, ‘Let’s go – I’m tired of bein’ here.’ And he played the trumpet part himself.”

Ouch! If you’re a trumpet player, be wary of the drummer!

This piece is a good example of why music writers love interviewing veteran musicians – theyve got stories to tell that up-and-coming bright new hopes just can’t match.

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Panic Room announce May Tour Dates

Panic Room at The Komedia, Bath

Panic Rooms have just announced a tour in May, featuring the newest version of the band with Dave Foster on guitar.

They are promising a show containing material from across four albums, presented as a two-part show, beginning with an acoustic set featuring stripped-down remiaginings,followed by a full electric set.

Six dates have been annouced so far, with more to follow

May 2nd – LONDON – The Borderline
May 3rd – MILTON KEYNES – The Stables
May 7th – YORK – Fibbers
May 9th – ST HELEN’S – The Citadel
May 15th – MANCHESTER – Sound Control
May 17th – BILSON – Robin 2

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RIP Demis Roussos

Greek singer Demis Roussos died today at the age of 68. Before a lengthy career as a solo artist he was the lead singer and bassist of Aphrodite’s Child, the prog band featuring Vangelis on keys.

“Four Horsemen” is a standout song from their bonkers 1972 concept album based on The Revelation of St. John. It’s a far better memorial for Demis Roussos’ talent as a singer that the throwaway cheesy hit that featured in the BBC period piece “Abigail’s Party”.

This is a prog classic that would probably have made Alison Steadman’s character Beverly’s head explode

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Napalm Death: Apex Predator – Easy Meat

Apex Predator - Easy MeatNapalm Death are one of those iconic underground bands. Their blend of extreme metal and hardcore punk was never in any danger of crossing over into the commercial mainstream, but their longevity combined with their refusal to compromise has made them household names even to those who find their actual music an unlistenable wall of noise. Their appearance on BBC2′s “Arena” at the beginning of their career in 1989 isn’t something that’s easily forgotten.

Their latest album “Apex Predator – Easy Meat” proves that they still have something to say a quarter of a century later. It’s a dark, angry record about a dark world that contains plenty to be angry about.

It starts off in deeply experimental territory. The opening title track with it’s eerie soundcapes with clanking percussion and robotic chanted vocals come over like some kind of Dalek marching band. With the second number “Smash a Single Digit” the guitars and machine-gun drumming come and batter down down the door. Individual songs blur into one another in a wall of ferocious guitar and angry screaming vocals, aided by a production that tears out of the speakers and nails you to the opposite wall.

It’s not quite all unrelenting high-speed barrage. “Dear Slum Landlord” slows down the pace, with Mark Greenway almost singing clean vocals,”Hierarchies” even features gregorian chant style vocal harmonies, and the monstrous closing “Adversarial/Copulating Snakes”, at five minutes, is something of an epic by their standards.

This is a record that manages to combine the visceral fury of punk with the dexterity and precision of metal, all played with such an intensity that it’s hard to take in the whole album in one go. Easy listening it ain’t. Napalm Death show absolutely no signs of mellowing in their old age, and they’ve made a record that’s utterly uncompromising, at times it almost making even Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” sound pedestrian.

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RIP Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese, mainman of Tangerine Dream, died last Tuesday. One of the true greats of the worlds of both electronic music and progressive rock.

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Lonely Robot pre-order

Lonely Robot is the new project from guitarist, vocalist and producer John Mitchell, of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame. It features a rhythm section of Nick Beggs and Craig Blundell, with guest appearances from Steve Hogarth, Nick Kershaw, Heather Findlay, Kim Seviour and Jem Godfrey. It’s released on 23rd February, and Burning Shed are now taking pre-orders.

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Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “Slàinte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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Dave Foster joins Panic Room

Dave Foster

Announcement nn Panic Room’s Facebook page:

PANIC ROOM are delighted to announce that for 2015 we will be working with lead guitarist, Dave Foster (Steve Rothery Band / Mr So&So) – a hugely talented musician who will be playing with the band for all of this year’s Live Tour dates, as well as joining us in the recording studio.

PANIC ROOM will be on tour in April-May 2015, and we are preparing to unveil a powerful live show which will celebrate the finest and most-loved music from across all 4 of the band’s Award-Winning albums. Each event will feature a full electric set plus an exclusive acoustic set, and we are very excited to welcome Dave aboard for these shows!

He will also be part of the recording line-up for PANIC ROOM’s 5th studio album, which we plan to begin later this year.

Having seen Dave Foster in action many times with Mr So and So, as wel as with Steve Rothery’s band, and even standing in with The Reasoning, Dve Foster’s style is an excellent fit for Panic Room’s music.

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A Battleship of Gigs

November and December are always crunch times for gigs, when everyone seems to be on tour at once, and gig-goers talk of bands playing Battleships on their diaries. The beginning of December saw an actual Battleship; four gigs in four days. Since we’re nearly a month after the gigs, what follows aren’t reviews as such, but do give me an excuse to post some photos.

The first of those was The Pineapple Thief at the O2 Academy in London, a good gig even if it didn’t quite reach the mesmerising heights of their performance at HRH Prog back in March.

Chantel McGregor at Bilston Robin 2

Then it was up to Bilston Robin 2 for Chantel McGregor. With her long-awaited second album now recorded and due for release early in the new year, she’s completely revamped her setlist from that of the past couple of years. Gone are the reworkings of blues standards, and her take on Robin Trower’s “Daydream” was the only cover in the set. In their place she played most of the new album, going from hard rock to solo acoustic numbers. This album is going to be well worth the wait.

Richie Richards, Bassist for Chantel McGregor at Bilston Robin 2

Sadly this run of gigs marked the farewell for her long-term bassist Ritchie Richards, a talented musician who always made an excellent foil for Chantel’s guitar playing.

Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn at Bilston Robin 2 on 6-Dec-2014

Then it was two back-to-back Mostly Autumn Christmas shows, in Manchester and Bilston. With the venue booked solid with panto, there wasn’t the traditional hometown show at York Grand Opera House this year to serve as a gathering of fans, but these two shows made up for it. The set was much the same as earlier in the year, with the concept album “Dressed in Voices” played in full as the second half the the show. This year they’re shaken up the Christmas encores, with Chris de Burgh#’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling” and, of all things, the theme song from Frozen.

The following weekend turned out to be an aircraft carrier…

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