Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, Kids! Time to Fill Up on Candy!

Wow, this is every kid's dream - to come home with more Halloween candy than you can carry!  Yeeehh!!

It really isn't the same for me, when I can just walk down to the supermarket and grab a bag of Twix.  Which I did.  Burp.  I do hope the kids remember to pace themselves.  That candy should last you through to Thanksgiving.

I'm still in awe of this holiday, or at least its modern version.  You dress up in costumes, then knock on every door in your neighborhood, and everybody gives you FREE candy???  Really??  I wish there was a day like that for the grown-ups, but let's face it, any such endeavor would end in adults shouting at one another and threatening lawsuits for whatever reason.  It'd descend into another episode of Jerry Springer.

That's why Halloween should remain a holiday for the kids.  They're much better sports about it.

Ugh...okay, I better stop eating the Twix now.  The sun isn't even down, and I'm already over my limit.  Ahh, good times.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pete Cosey Talks to The Last Miles

The Last Miles has a terrific and lengthy interview with guitar shredder legend Pete Cosey.  Read it here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some Thoughts About Miles Davis' Pangaea

Courtesy of one dedicated Miles Davis fan, we have the entirety of the 1975 acid-funk album Pangaea available to listen. You won't have to touch anything, since all the Youtube segments are on a running playlist. Just hit play and enjoy the brilliant music.

Pangaea is the final fusion album from Miles Davis, the second in a stunning double bill in Osaka, Japan, on February 1, 1975. The afternoon show was recorded for the Agharta album, and the evening show became Pangaea. Shortly thereafter, Miles finally retreated from performing music. He would not return for nearly six years.

I'm a great fan of Miles' 1973-75 acid-funk band, which was captured on the 1974 studio LP Get Up With It, and three live LP's, Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. All four were double albums and were immensely long. We must remember that the double album was a rare event in pop music during the 1970s. It was something rock bands did once, to prove their chops and their musical output, but largely to follow in the footsteps of The Beatles' White Album. The Rolling Stones had one, Led Zeppelin had one, even Stevie Wonder had one.

It's stunning when you realize that Miles Davis hurled out so many double-LP's, and in such a short period of time. His fusion era only lasted six years, really, if you begin at 1969's landmark In a Silent Way. In that short period of time, Miles had thrown the music world on its ear, revolutionized popular music, and split the jazz community right down the middle. It's a schism that still exists, even though the wounds have greatly healed. It also helps that the future generations have caught up to what Miles was brewing.

The twin shows Agharta and Pangaea represent the final peak of that great and stunning era, the grand summary of everything Miles Davis had furiously sought after. Pangaea, especially, reveals a lot of mellower, more otherworldly music that reminds me of "He Loved Him Madly," Miles Davis' masterfully haunting tribute to Duke Ellington from side one of Get Up. Reminds me of Silent Way, too.

Of course, the spectacular heavy funk jams get all the attention, as well they should. The music on Magus, Agharta and Pangaea is the heaviest music on the planet. This band was so far beyond '70s rock that it wasn't even funny. On the two Osaka shows, the afternoon concert (Agharta) gets all the attention from funk and thrash freaks. But don't discount the first ten minutes of Pangaea's evening show, which is absolutely incendiary.

Pete Cosey's wailing, shredding guitar solos...absolutely spectacular. Guitar God, sandwiched perfectly between Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. And Michael Henderson's growling bass riffs, Al Foster and Mtume's drumming - this is as good as it gets. There's a confidence, a boldness, to the rhythm section that's a thrill. Sometimes I think they steal the show, especially on the first disc.

There's no question that Pangaea is overall more subtle than Agharta, and we shouldn't be surprised when the band performs two full concerts on the same day. I'm deeply grateful that Miles and crew don't repeat the first setlist on the evening show. Pangaea's vibe is very different, alternately heavier and more ambient. In three hours and four discs, you get the complete Miles Davis experience.

Listen carefully to the Gondwana disc. Its first ten minutes are mellow, mysterious, the Duke Ellington funeral dirge reborn. Then the energy slowly burns brighter and brighter, slowly builds around Pete Cosey, Guitar God. By the 20-minute mark, voodoo funk-metal is in the house. Yeehh....the mood swings are organic, natural, smooth. The visable seams in Magus are invisible now.

One of the great thrills of Agharta/Pangaea is spotting the classic Miles riffs. There's the bassline from "Kind of Blue." There's a couple jams from "Jack Johnson." And there's "He Loved Him Madly," and "Calypso Frelimo." Great ideas for improvisations, of stealing moments instead of performing the full songs. Everything is consumed in the giant organic stew.

And through it all lies Miles Davis, his aching body breaking down, his years of fighting the fusion revolution taking its toll. There's been enough said about Miles state of mind in 1975, and I suspect much of it is merely myth-building, to fit into the readily assembled narrative about burnout and retirement and eventual resurgence. It's hard to say where the real Miles lies. It has always been thus.

The evening concert ends, everything has been said, every ounce of energy left on that stage. I have the feeling that Miles couldn't play another note if he tried. He gave all of himself on these two shows, and you can hear it. There's a tone of sadness in the final minutes, the final dissonant organ wails that hang in the air. This spectacular era of Miles' long career, so reviled and misunderstood, so far beyond its time, is coming to its end.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Permanent (Drug) War

Digby on today's helicopter crashes in Afghanistan:

It seems that our two abstract, endless Orwellian wars --- the War on Drugs and the War on Terror --- have officially merged. And the complications stemming from that decision are going to be immense. What are we fighting for again?

Simple.  The object of torture is torture.  The object of permanent war is Permanent War.  These useless wars serve only to maintain the Empire, even if they bankrupt us in the end.

I see these conflicts with a skeptical eye, but I'm an optimist at heart.  We need to realize that the "Drug War" as nothing more than a subsidy to the enormously profitable drug cartels and the political terror groups they finance.  We could completely bankrupt them overnight, and solve a host of global problems in the process.  It's simple supply and demand, folks, and prohibition is nothing more than the world's largest price subsidy.

The War on Drugs is a bailout for the cartels, the guerilla armies, and the terrorists.  You want to win the drug war, really win?  Then bankrupt the bastards.  Make their product worthless.

Oh, and we seriously need to get our Army the heck out of Afghanistan.  These Permanent Wars have got to stop.

Miles Davis - The "Pete Cosey" Band 1973

This is the best-looking video I've yet seen of what we generally refer to "The Pete Cosey Band," aka Miles Davis' 1973-75 band.  Every musician in this lineup is spectacular, of course.  But Pete Cosey, the master shredder...he's the one I'm cheering the loudest for.  Why hasn't he ever jammed with Eddie Van Halen or Dimebag Darrel or Kerry King?

Daaaammn....Miles' band is just on fire in this clip.  I hope I can find more.  You can hear the sound perfected on those spectacular trio of live albums - Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea.  This is the grungiest, heaviest, funkiest music on the planet in the mid-70s.  And it's prefect for a generation raised on hardcore punk, speed metal, grunge and hip-hop.

Miles Davis - Inamorata

Here is '70s funk Miles Davis at his best.  Inamorata plays out side four on the 1971 Live-Evil album, which juxtaposed live stage performances with shorter studio works.  It's a spectacular album, especially if you're a fan of funk and hip-hop.  Oddly enough, there aren't nearly enough album tracks available on Youtube right now; somebody ought to fix that.  Youtube really ought to do away with their silly little "10 minute" rule, too.

Live-Evil just grooves. It's band lineup barely lasted a year, but what a greasy, funky sound. This is the most danceable of the Electric Miles albums.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here's Some Photos of the Rega Fono Mini


Here are a few photos of the Rega Fono Mini in action.  I wish the lighting was better, but the sun hasn't been seen in over a week.  It's been grey overcast skies as far as the eye can see - typical October in Minnesota.

This humble little preamp is breaking in very nicely.  The music is warm and smooth, confident and detailed.  It's proving to be an excellent match for my Ortofon 2M Blue, which is currently my favorite cart.

Among the audiophile crowd, Cambridge Audio's 640P ($179) and 540P ($99) are the undisputed champions.  But don't count Rega out.  A few brave souls insist the Rega Mini competes evenly for a full bodied, warm MM sound.  It's a definite underdog, and I'm always one to root for underdogs.

Tom Waits - Sins of My Father

I'm playing my favorite Tom Waits album right now, 2004's Real Gone.  Its sound is a bit tough to describe to those who don't know Tom Waits.  My best explanation: 1930s blues songs played by junkyard pirates.

"Sins" is the album's third track, and closes out side one on the vinyl, which sounds terrific.  Oh, yehhh, the LP version sounds fantastic, all analog production from start to finish.  The Rega Fono Mini is providing just the perfect dose of smoothness, warmth, and muscle.  Real Gone has never sounded better.

And on that happy's the CD version.  Hah hah!  This sounds good, too.  But you really need a turntable.  And if you don't have one...why the heck not?  What's your deal?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Here's the Rega Fono Mini

Here's a look at the $145 Rega Fono Mini, an excellent phono preamp.  This may be one of the great deals in hi-fi audio, and, unlike the bulk of hi-fi, which is catered towards the idle rich, delivers wonderful music to the masses.  You know, people like you and me who aren't swimming in play money.

I'll be writing my full-length review later, but I wanted to share this with you now.  If you have a vintage turntable, and especially a Japanese direct drive, the Rega Fono Mini is a must.  Pair it with an Ortofon 2M Blue and you'll be hearing the best music of your lives.

Just so everybody knows, here's my current stereo system in the living room.  I'll include the prices for your convenience.

Sony PS-X5 direct drive turntable - $100
Ortofon 2M Blue Moving Magnet cart - $200
Funk Achromat platter mat - $100
Harman/Kardon 330c stereo receiver - $12.50
RCA stereo speakers - $35
Rega Fono Mini - $145

Don't let the outrageous prices on new audio equipment scare you.  The great bargains are out there, if you are but willing to look.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marcee's Halloween Hairstyle

Now I have to get myself a pin-striped suit and get a haircut. We'd look just like The Addams Family. Heh heh. See, this is why I think long hair works best for Marcee. It's her style.

Marcee works for a construction company; she handles public relations, payroll, and regularly visits the building sites. Occasionally, she runs the business while the boss is away. Our goal is to find a similar employer in Boston who would be willing to bring her over. I have to get a spreadsheet program for my computer so we can work on updating the resumes, then start hustling for that elusive Boston job.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Off the Page

Off Yer Damn Rocker, is more like it. Is this a parody? Please tell me that NRO isn't seriously arguing that America should roll back women's suffrage. Really? C'maaan...really? Women shouldn't be allowed to vote? What else shouldn't women be allowed to do? Sex is out, that's a given. Should they be allowed to dress themselves? Should they be allowed to have jobs, or attend college? Should they be allowed in public without male supervision?

This has to be a joke...right? Nobody in politics can be that stupid.

Update: Listened to the video interview. Yep. Derbyshire really is that stupid. Either that, or he believes his audience is stupid. He makes a rediculous claim - women shouldn't have the vote, because they overwhelmly vote "liberal" - then spins around and denies that he's advocating anything of the sort. "Equity has a downside," Derbyshire claims. Loser.

Solar Power Has Never Been Cheaper

Where do I sign up for this?  Let me put some solar panels on the roof of my house and become entirely self-sufficient.  Who out there enjoys paying the ultility bills?

We need to do everything we can to bring the prices down to the level of the average American.  Goodness knows we subsidize all these things that are terrible for us...why not this?  The dramatic fall in costs associated with solar is remarkable, but it needs to go further.  I'd like to see tax breaks that pay for roof panels 100%, but that's just me.

Solar power has been getting cheaper for years. Panel prices declined 31 percent from 1998 to 2008 because of lower manufacturing and installation costs and state and local subsidies, according to a study released Wednesday by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But it still took a ramp up in federal incentives this year to bring the cost within many people's reach.

More than half the states in the U.S. and Washington D.C. offer enough incentives to cut the costs by 40 percent or more, according to Amy Heinemann, a policy analyst at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

How much you'll spend depends on where you live.

In New Jersey, generous state incentives can pay for more than 90 percent of a home solar system. A 5-kilowatt solar system would drop from $37,500 to about $2,625 after applying the federal tax credit, a state rebate, and a renewable energy program through the state's largest electric utility, PSE&G.

A system that size can shrink a typical home's electricity consumption by up to 40 percent and cut an electric bill by several hundred dollars a year. The owner would recoup the cost in roughly three years.

GOP Proposes to Cut Solar Technology Funding

This isn't just stupid, it's terrible policy.  Much of it, I'm sure, is because of the GOP's close allegiance to Big Oil, but much of it comes down to pacifying their ever-shrinking, hysterical base.  Solar and wind power are equated with global warming, the environment, and those damned liberal hippies.

It bears repeating that the Republican Party's policies have been disastrous.  Wasn't this once "the business party?"  Any sane observer can clearly see that solar power will become a license to print money in the 21st Century, just as they can see the decline of oil, coal and gas.  Solar power industries are expected to triple over the next decade, and those jobs are going to be created somewhere.  If the United States doesn't take the lead, other nations will.

Does the United States lead the world in anything anymore?  Smithers, release the hounds!

Sony PS-X5 and Harman/Kardon 330c

A look at the current stereo system in the apartment living room (I moving out after next month, btw).  The stereo receiver is a Harman/Kardon 330c, an excellent 1970s vintage unit that I bought for $12.50.  It's a compact unit, but offers strong bass, and sharp, clear musical tones.  The phono stage sounds better to my ears than the one on my Marantz 2235b, and I'm enjoying the music more than ever before.

The main turntable continues to be our venerable Sony PS-X5.  It's a solid, dependable workhorse from the golden age of Japanese direct-drive tables, and continues to impress.  It's sounding better than ever, thanks to some aggressive use of modeling clay (Claytoons) underneath and inside the chassis.  Oil-based modeling clay is a remarkable damping tool for vintage turntables; as far as I'm concerned, it's essential for classic direct-drives.

Another improvement was to the tonearm, the one real weak point on the PS-X5.  I covered the tonearm with heat shrink tubing, which cuts down on resonances that interfere with the music.  One interesting side-effect is that this has increased the weight of the tonearm, which made balancing rather difficult.  But this was fixed with judicious use of Claytoons on the rear end of the tonearm, next to the counterweight.

My final alteration was to replace the Sony's stock rubber mat with a Funk Achromat.  This also yielded impressive gains in the clarity and focus of the sound.  This is an easy upgrade for any turntable, and one that you can immediately hear.  I began tweaking turntables when I made some cork mats for the Pro-Ject Debut III last year.

My PS-X5 is sounding remarkably more nuanced, refined, and more dynamic than ever.  The Ortofon 2M cart has never sounded better.  The only remaining tweaks I can think of at this point would be replacing the stock RCA cables, and swapping the gel-filled feet with brass cones, something like Tenderfoot.  After that, finis.  I have squeezed nearly every drop of music out of this turntable, and I'm enjoying the results.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Plastic Ocean Comes to Manila Harbor

This is almost impossible to believe...but this large mass of grey covering Manila's coastline is garbage.  A crowded sea of plastic garbage is literally drowning out the harbor.

Plastics are not recycled.  They end up in the world's oceans.  Humanity has turned the Pacific into a damned garbage dump.  The instant-gratification throwaway culture is utter madness - "Give me convenience or give me death!"

Want to stomach more?  Look at what happens to the birds who live in these plastic oceans.  This is horrifying beyond words.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pavarotti - Rigoletto La Dona e Mobile

I don't quite understand why, but people grow older, you see their younger selves and are amazed at their youthful vitality.  It's easy to be so critical of ourselves, but when you look back 20 years later, you wondered what in the world you were ever so self-conscious about.  Here is a young Pavarotti.  He looks like he can't be a day over 30, or 25, or 21.  The youthful years blur together in your mind once you've grown older.

Marcee and I are listening to some Pavarotti, so there's no reason why you can't listen along.

Helloo Marcee!

I'm showing off a photo of Marcee because I want to see her shining face while I'm at work during the day. These are very artsy photographs. I love 'em. But, as you can guess, I'm biased. Heh heh.

Karman/Kardon 330c Stereo Receiver

My Marantz 2235b stereo receiver began misbehaving this week, with the signal to the left speaker almost cutting out completely, so I pulled it off of the shelf and moved my second stereo into rotation - the Harman/Kardon 330c.  I'm having so much fun listening to Miles Davis and The Beatles on this unit that I'm keeping it on the shelves.

I picked up the HK 330c a few months ago at Hymie's Records, just after they changed to new owners, who began pulling out many vintage turntables and stereo equipment out of the basement.  I've had less luck with a couple old turntables - an MCS/Technics and a JVC direct drive - but the stereos have been terrific.

The price for the HK?  $12.50.  That's twelve dollars and fifty cents.  That is an astonishing deal for one of the classic 1970s stereo receivers.  I'm certain the new owners didn't know how valuable this machine truly is.  They could have sold it on Ebay for a tidy sum.  But their generosity is my gain.

This is a terrific stereo, somewhat compact and humble in appearance, but powerful in its performance.  Music is clear and sharp, with very strong and confident bass.  FM/AM stations come in clearly, the headphone jack works perfectly, and Miles sounds warm and sharp as ever.

I'm a great fan of '70s stereo receivers.  I love the way they look and I love the way they sound.  The '70s were a golden age for hi-fi audio, and as far as I'm concerned, the quality just dropped off a cliff in the 1980s.  I have no idea what happened, but stereos in the '80s suddenly became plastic, flimsy, and cheap.  They were hideous back then, and 25 years of dust and grime has only made them uglier.  Yuck.

The '70s stereos are where it's at.  A good solid cleaning, and the Harman/Kardon 330c is just like new.  I'll need to continue scrubbing down the metal dials and buttons, which have become caked in dust.  Like so much audio gear, this baby has been sitting in a dusty cellar for many years.  Why is that?  Why did so many people lose interest in their stereo systems?  A sound system defined cool in the heyday of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder.

Somewhere around 1980, everything in America just turned sour.

Sony PS-X75 Turntable

I still miss my Sony PS-X75.  It had just the perfect combination of awesome performance and stylish looks.  To my eyes, this is what a great turntable looks like.  Today's designs are far more stripped down and basic, since vinyl records are a small niche.  But back in the 1970s, when millions of turntables were sold, Japanese manufacturers were able to devote their considerable engineering skills to the craft.

Sony's PS-X75 represented the third generation from their golden age of turntable design.  The PS-X5/6/7 series began the peak, it then continued with the X50/60/70 series, and then the great X65/75 tables.  They continued to refine this design well into the early '80s, when Compact Disc arrived and sent all the engineers scurrying away to master the new format.

This PS-X75 features Sony's unique tonearm, dubbed the "Biotracer."  It began on an earlier model and was pretty much perfected here.  The Biotracer uses magnets and electronic parts for its automated movements, promising shiny touch controls.  Just press a button and Biotracer takes care of everything - you never have to lay a finger on the tonearm.

The Biotracer design also tackles tonearm resonance, one of the oldest engineering challenges in turntables.  Most tonearms must be matched properly with the tonearm, so resonances do no interfere with the musical signal.  Sony's design essentially eliminates this problem.  In theory, you should be able to play any kind of phono cartridge on the Biotracer, regardless of its mass or compliance.

Can you see that light near the back of the turntable?  It's not just for looks.  This is a sensor that reads the record, and tells the Biotracer where to move when beginning and ending.  There are holes cut into the thick rubber mat (a smooth, almost plastic feel to the touch), that tell PS-X75 were the record is.  Just push a button to play '45 singles, and the table does the rest.

One great touch.  If you press the start button when no record is on the mat, the Biotracer moves out, then darts back into place, and the table stops.  Very nice...very nice!

The PS-X75 represents the pinnacle of Sony's turntable aesthetic.  You can see how gorgeous it looks, with the reflective black surface, lightly sparkled, and the shiny metal buttons.  A red LED light displays the functions in front.  And it might be hard to tell from photos, but this table is huge.  It's very big and very heavy.  My old Pro-Ject Debut III belt-drive would just get swallowed up.

All the brilliant technical innovations (many actually stolen from Sony's rival Denon) from the earlier PS-X tables are present here, and this is where I really find myself becoming a devoted Sony fan.  The BSL (brushless-slotless) motor provides very strong torque, yet remains extremely quiet.  Magnedisc and X-Tal Lock delivers an astonishly smooth and stable speed.  The chassis is made of non-resonant composite materials, mostly - believe if or not! - polyester and fiberglass.  If you grew up around hockey sticks, you'll recognize the feel.

Oh, and in case I haven't mentioned it yet - the music is spectacular on the PS-X75.  Can you tell how much I loved this turntable?  I still have a PS-X5, which contains most of the same features, but it's smaller, less attractive, and the tonearm is just a cheap aluminum tube, standard-issue '70s model.  Sony quickly developed far better arms.  It's good and occasionally great, but really not in the same league.

The one down side to the PS-X75 is the same with all vintage audio gear: time.  This machine was released in 1979, and I highly doubt that any of its engineers believed record lovers would still be playing 30 years later.  And this table uses computers and electronic velocity sensors.  If the Biotracer goes senile in its old age, you're going to be in trouble.  In my experience, vintage audio gear can still work like new, if it was treated carefully over the years.  As in all things, be careful and examine thoroughly when buying vintage.

Back when I bought my Sony tables, they were rushing through Ebay in waves.  Now, the current has dried up, but that should change sooner or later.  The PS-X75 and PSX-65 (same table, but with Sony's more traditional PUA-7 tonearm) are fairly expensive, anywhere from $200 to $500.  If that sounds expensive, then pay a visit to Needle Doctor and see what today's new turntables are selling for.  Five Benjammins are nothing but chump change in this game, kids.

Here are a few stats to impress you, if that sort of thing rocks your world:

Speed accuracy: 0.015%
150g load speed drift: 0%
Wow & flutter: 78dB
Platter: 32cm
Full speed ahead: 1/2 rotation

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Long Tall Sally EP - A Smouldering Slab of Rock N Roll

Thanks to Youtube, here is the Beatles 1964 EP, Long Tall Sally.  These four songs are available on Past Masters (or Mono Masters for the mono box set).  Super kudos to anyone who has the original vinyl.  These are some of the heaviest, most raucous rockers in the Beatles catalog - you really have to hear the original mono.

The Beatles in Mono box set sounds just like this, only a little sharper, a little clearer, and louder!  But "louder" in a good way - the dynamic range has been masterfully preserved in mono.  St. Cobain would be proud.

Beatles - Long Tall Sally EP

The Beatles released 13 EPs during their career, and only two contained original songs not already available on 45-rpm single and LP.  The format was popular in the UK - two songs per side, instead of one for singles.  It was a cheap in-between for those who couldn't afford the big, expensive LPs.  Eventually, the format was phased out, but the idea lived on well into the CD age; "EP" generally means any album with fewer songs than a full-length album.  Hovercraft's Been Brained (5 songs) and Babes in Toyland's To Mother (7 songs) are excellent examples.

Anyway, here is The Beatles' Long Tall Sally EP from 1964, released just before A Hard Day's Night.  This EP contained four new songs, three covers and one original.  Today, these songs are included on Past Masters, and "Mono Masters" on the spectacular Beatles in Mono box set.  This is a terrific series of rockers, loud and ferocious, especially in mono.  The stereo versions, as always, are stripped down and lack the necessary punch.  Frankly, I'm just not a fan of seperating instruments into this speaker and that speaker.  It's like putting the band at opposite ends of the stage.

Thank God for Beatles in Mono, that's what I say.  It's officially listed as a "limited release," but I do hope the powers that be rethink that option.  Even if the mono albums are only available on the box set (seperate mono CDs would only confuse the stupids), I would be more than happy.  Check out the Long Tall Sally songs and discover for yourself.

Oh, you do know that the other Beatles EP of new songs was Magical Mystery Tour, right?  Of course.  Just checking.  Here's a photo of all the EPs from their career, released some years ago as a CD box set.

Strawberry Fields Forever - Mono

Strawberry Fields Forever is a completely different song in mono.  Not because of any major compositional changes, but because of the heavy cohesion to the sound.  Everything sounds so much better when mixed together for one speaker.  This song feels druggy, dreamy, surreal in a way that doesn't come through in the stereo version.

But watch out for that ending!  It's positively frightening in the original mono.  Where the stereo mix had a playful feel in the outro, the mono mix is menacing.  I feel like I'm being assaulted.  John Lennon had a masterful way of capturing the darker, nightmarish side of the psychedelic trip - the denizens of the unconscious are unleashed in a fearful avalanche.

The mono version of this song scares me.  I'm serious.  Put on your headphones, crank up the volume, and turn out the lights.  I double dare ya.

Beatles in Mono - Paperback Writer b/w Rain

You've never heard The Beatles until you've heard their songs the way they were meant to be heard - in glorious mono.  The difference between mono and stereo is stunning.  I'm really coming to grips with the fact that the stereo mixes - which are the de-facto standard today - were essentially slapped together as an afterthought.  The sheen and polish on the mono mixes are astonishing.

Then there's the biggest surprise of all - Mono Beatles rocks.  I always heard The Beatles as a pop band, but never a rock band.  These mono CDs will kick your ass.  The Kurt Cobain-John Lennon connection was tighter than any of us realized.

Here's one spectacular example - the mono single for Paperback Writer b/w Rain.  This is the way these songs were heard by the vast majority of fans in the 1960s- in hard-rocking, rip-the-walls-off mono.

Thus endeth the lesson.  Go in peace.

I am having sooooo much fun with the new 2009 mono reissues.  I downloaded FLAC copies off the internet, but I'm hoping I can grab a Beatles in Mono box set - $200 a pop!  I'll easily spend twice as much to score the mono albums on vinyl.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

American Idol Sucks

So Simon Cowell thinks The Beatles would get booted from American Idol? Good. That show royally sucks. I'd be offended if the plasticized hacks that populate that stupid show tried to jump on the Beatles bandwagon.

Let's see if Simon Cowell can produce a single pop song worth remembering in 20 years. He's a scam artist dressed like the dimbulbs who consume his product. In the year 2050, our grandchildren will be singing Beatles songs by campfires; Cowell will earn a fancy gravestone and little else.

A Few Screenshots of Ferrari 355 Challenge on Dreamcast


I tend to go on these topical benders.  Haven't ya noticed?  My current Dreamcast fixation is temporary, as I work to chronicle some of my impressions of the beloved games console.  Sooner or later, it should burn itself out, and I'll be back to writing about something else.

For now, here are a series of screenshots from Sega AM2's arcade racer, Ferrari 355 Challenge.  This was the brainchild of Yu Suzuki, the mastermind responsible for so many classic arcade racers - Hang On, Outrun, Daytona USA - as well as the Virtua Fighter series and his infamous pet project, Shenmue.  Ferrari 355 represents the apex of his career as a car enthusiast and game designer.

The game is rather notoriously difficult, much closer to simulation than pure arcade game, but I suspect the genre has caught up with Suzuki-san.  Having to learn how to properly brake and maneuver the correct driving lines is standard on today's racing games.  And Ferrari's precision driving is superb.  You won't find a better driving game anywhere.  These cars handle like a dream, just like buttah.

Anyway, that's my short rap on Ferrari 355.  The Dreamcast was blessed with many outstanding driving games, and this title stands ahead of the pack.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ferrari 355 Challenge - HD Video

Great! Ferrari 355 Challenge is arguably Dreamcast's best racing game. It's certainly the best looking, and it carries Sega's arcade tradition nicely. The only downside is that the game is very tough, almost a simulation than an arcade racer. Yu Suzuki was in a hardcore mindset during this period; the same criticism was leveled at Virtua Fighter 3. This is a game for the hardcore fans.

I'm a great fan of Ferrari 355, and it's one of the standout Dreamcast titles. It still looks spectacular, and that's really saying something.

Update: I've added a second video, which looks absolutely stunning on a widescreen tv. Thank the VGA Box for that, which renders Dreamcast in a higher resolution than PS2 or XBox 1. Surprised? Dreamcast is full of surprises.

Ferrari 355 has some of the sharpest, most detailed graphics on the console, far beyond nearly every other title at the time. Bright colors, richly detailed textures, fantastic skies, and large, shiny cars. I really love the look of this game. It suggests just how far Dreamcast games could ably compete against Playstation 2. Who knows what would have happened if Sega stayed in the game a few more years?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Third Strike Tournament Videos

This is the one area where video games could be considered a competitive sport - fighting game tourneys.  Watch this legendary battle from the 2004 Evolution Tournament.  It's a spectacular illustration of why Street Fighter 3: Third Strike is a great game.  You probably weren't even aware how competitive this game truly is.

I don't know where the second video comes from, but it's an exciting match that's just as thrilling.  It also features Daigo Umehara, a famous professional gamer.  Be sure to read his Wikipedia page...why don't I have a Wiki page yet?  Somebody really ought to work on that.

Videos - Street Fighter 3: Third Strike

Thanks to Youtube, here's a gameplay video of Third Strike on Dreamcast, presented in HD.  Doesn't it look fab?  Of course it does.

Videogame Classics - Street Fighter 3: Third Strike

Is Street Fighter 3: Third Strike the greatest fighting game for the Sega Dreamcast? Normally, it's Soul Calibur that's hailed as the masterpiece, and given the thunderous reception to its unveiling in 1999, to say nothing of its influence on videogames, it's hard to argue. But I can't think of a better 2D fighting game than Third Strike. And I remember the days when Street Fighter was the hot trailblazer.

Funny how times change. Street Fighter 2 became a sensation on the Super Nintendo, very nearly saving the console after being beaten senseless by the Sega Genesis in 1991. Two console generations later, and the release of Third Strike on Dreamcast was barely noticed. The dedicated fans knew the score, of course, but the general gaming public? The gaming press, the prozines? Shrug. 3D polygons were hot, and 2D was passe and old. We'll never mind the fact that nearly all polygon games from the '90s have aged terribly, while Capcom's fighters look as sharp and exciting as ever.

John Lennon warned you kids about instant karma. He wasn't kidding.

No doubt Capcom had burned many bridges by the end of the decade, watering down their brand with too many sequels and spinoffs. Sega made the very same mistakes themselves. Of course, Third Strike would appear on Dreamcast - the two were meant for each other. Interesting, also, that this was the final Street Fighter game for the better part of the decade. This really was the peak, wasn't it? Yes, there is now Street Fighter 4. But it's squarely a retro remake, and with polygons, at that. That will likely be final resting place for the series. It's far cheaper to peddle in nostalgia once you reach a certain age.

Street Fighter 3 went through two installments before Third Strike arrived, and there was a backlash because the game was too new. Too many different and strange characters, and only Ken and Ryu to represent the old school. Third Strike found the right balance, not only adding Akuma and Chun-Li, but finally refining the newer characters so they felt like the older ones, while retaining a unique flavor. This guy is sort of like Dhalsim. That guy reminds you of Zangief. That one guy is just like Guile, only more of a 1970 Deep Purple vibe. And so on and so on.

Third Strike found the perfect balance, that elusive center. It was familiar, it continued the tradition. Yet it was new, fresh, vibrant. The hip-hop soundtrack is another masterstroke. This is the best music in any fighting game, ever.

I remember at the time that Third Strike was hailed as a "back to basics" game that stripped down the excesses of all the sequels and focused on the core fighting of the original Street Fighter 2. This was interpreted as being slow or lacking flash, as somehow there was less game there. How wrong we all were. That the game was sleeker, slimmer, more efficient....yes, very true. But it was also the fastest, fiercest, most intense fighter in the series. You can see that today on all the tournament videos roaming the internet. Once the competitive gamers figured this out, a new game was revealed.

I think games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and the Vs. series - Marvel Vs. Capcom, yadda yadda - present a more manic form, more chaotic. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike feels more tactical, more intelligent. It's slower, but never slow. The intense combat is some of the fastest action around. And it's far more fluid and kinetic than the Street Fighter 2 series. Just watch some Youtube videos and see for yourself.

Street Fighter 3: Third Strike looks absolutely spectacular, and it's arguably the high point for sprite-based graphics. I'm running through my mind, and I cannot come up with a single title this decade that has surpassed it. This is the sort of thing that can only come out of anime culture. You must have a true love for the hand-drawn craft, and you must have the skills to understand. I'm thinking of the wonderfully fluid motions of the fighters, of the stylish poses in portraits, of the way they walk onto the screen before a match.

Backgrounds, too, are drawn in spectacular washes of color. wonderfully saturated in warm and cold tones. Street Fighter has never looked better, and it stays unique. I never cared for the look of SNK's fighters. They were always a little too bright, the fighters shaded like CG renders. Third Strike feels grittier, sharper, less overly cartoony. The hip-hop vibe permeates. I also especially appreciate that all the graphics are rendered in sprites and not polygons. No doubt Capcom took some hits for this artistic decision. Marval Vs. Capcom 2 has those wonderful polygon backgrounds, and it became a great hit on Dreamcast. Flash sells first impressions in a way that quiet confidence cannot.

But flash will quickly fade. Confidence lasts. It's 2009 and we're still talking about Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, and we're still talking about Sega Dreamcast. All of which brings us back to my original thought: is this the greatest fighting game on the DC? The easy money's on Soul Calibur, or perhaps the Japanese version of Dead or Alive 2. Can't argue with those games; they're classics and earned their respect. But here lies another fighting classic, one that might possibly stand as the last great 2D fighting game. The fans need to stand up and argue the case.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Some Under Defeat Videos

Hmm...I really should be writing something more important this weekend.  Bad habit of mine.  Ah, well, enjoy these gameplay videos from Under Defeat on Dreamcast.

Under Defeat (2006)

Now here is an absolutely smashing arcade shooter! Just sensational. I'm not a fan of the hyper-manic "bullet" shooters. I'm really a fan of the Toaplan shooters from the '80s and early '90s - Twin Cobra, Fire Shark, yadda yadda. G.Rev's Under Defeat continues that fine tradition, and I'm really quite thrilled to see it appear on the Dreamcast.

Here are a few screenshots of the game in action. As you can see, this is no mere low-budget shovelware, but a top-line production that duly demonstrates Dreamcast's powers. Background graphics and smoke effects are terrific. Any overhead shooter where I can blow everything up is a winner in my book, and I've always enjoyed smashing tanks in streets and battleships in water.

Ooh, this really looks sensational. Am I repeating myself? Ah, well, there's only so many words you can use to describe these classic arcade games. Just imagine how impressed your friends will be at the sight of this - running on a Sega Dreamcast,no less!

Radigry (2006)

Yes, another in a lengthy line of "afterlife" Dreamcast games, this arcade shoot-em-up stands out with its cel-shaded graphics.  Very clever and quirky, and very Dreamcast.  This console was always home to the goofy misfits, which may have been unpopular in 2000, but has turned Sega's final console into legend.

Enjoy this gameplay video of Radigry, which was released in early 2006.  Yeah, that's right.  2006.  Maybe Sega really should re-release Dreamcast after all.  They could sell the hardware at a profit.  Heck, ramp up development again.  Wouldn't that be a hoot?  You'd never see anything beyond arcade shooters and indie titles, but it would still be a thrill.

Trigger Heart Exelica - Dreamcast Lives!

Dreamcast lives!  Even though the console was whacked in early 2001, games continued to be released for the console in Japan for years.  And these are excellent arcade conversions, too.  If you're a fan of arcade shoot-em-ups, then you'll be in heaven.

Here is one excellent title from 2007, Trigger Heart Exelica.  Looks excellent with a mix of sprite and polygon graphics.  Definitely a genre title, and these Japanese overhead shooters are a dime a dozen, but would any Dreamcast fan complain?  It only helps to build the legend. 

How did Dreamcast turn into the "Long Tail" games console?  We may have reached the point where no console ever truly dies.  Works for me.  This notion of throwing out your video game library every five years and starting from scratch is a crank notion.  Other than a Nintendo Wii that supports 1080p, I can't see any need for future generations of hardware.

Anyway, enjoy the gameplay video.  Imports and downloads are very easy to come by.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Space Channel 5 - Some Screenshots

Space Channel 5 is one of the more celebrated Sega Dreamcast titles - stylish, unique, a little strange, and just out of left field. This was Sega's entry in the rhythm-music genre, which was very new in 2000, thanks to the likes of Dance Dance Revolution and Parappa the Rapper. And here we are in 2009, and the genre has completely taken over. Guitar Hero and Rock Band, anyone?

I sort of missed Space Channel 5 at the time, but one of these days I'll give it a go. Oh, and this game features Michael Jackson, which is now considered "cool" and not "creepy." Moonwalker on Genesis? Yeah, that's still really creepy. That's the one where Michael hides children in closets and car trunks. Yeeeh.

Rush Rush Rally Racing Trailer

As promised, here is the official trailer for the upcoming Sega Dreamcast racer Rush Rush Rally Racing. This really looks like fun, and I can't think of a better home for an old-school arcade game.

Rush Rush Rally Racing - NEW Dreamcast Game

Here are screenshots for an upcoming racing videogame for, of all things, Sega Dreamcast.  How crazy is that?!  Groovy for us.  Rush Rush Rally Racing looks really fun, very reminiscent of those classic overhead racing games like RC Pro-Am that were common in the 1980s.

The tagline in the trailer is especially nice: "No realistic backgrounds.  No sponsored cars."  This is the sort of thing that is tailor-made to aging Generation Xers like me.  And, yes, it works.  I'd rather play Micro Machines on a Sega Genesis than fret about the latest Gran Turismo.

The indie game scene has grown wonderfully this decade, thanks to WiiWare and XBox Live Arcade.  I'm quite impressed that Senile Team (designers) and Red Spot Games (publisher) even bothered with a commercial release on Dreamcast.  Surely, XBox Live would be far easier and more profitable.

The features are especially impressive.  1-4 players, 19 racetracks, animated cut-scenes, support for VMU, rumble and VGA Box, and an online high score table.  That's right, kids - there are still Dreamcast servers in 2009.  What's that?  You can run over pedestrians?  Yaayy!!

A trailer is available online, and I'll be sure to post it later this evening.  My favorite part was the multiplayer split screen, which was blazingly fast and fluid.  Multiplayer is where Sega Dreamcast reigns supreme, and hopefully this humble little game will find an audience.  You'll be able to purchase through Amazon, which is a crucial step.  Let's hope the internet fan community comes through.

Here are some more screensots.  Enjoy, share, steal, whatever.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Video - Dead or Alive 2

Here are a couple Youtube videos of Dead or Alive 2 in action.  When I get my Dreamcast back, I'll definitely be getting this game if I can.  Great fun.

Dead or Alive 2 on Dreamcast

Soul Calibur has always been the immediate favorite since day one, but Tecmo gave Namco a serious run for the money when they unveiled Dead or Alive 2. Now this was an impressive fighting game, certainly one of Dreamcast's very best games.

I think Soul Calibur is the better game overall, thanks to its immensely deep story mode and endless surprises, which became standard in the videogame industry. But DOA2 has a superb fighting engine, swift and complex without being overwhelming, and a large roster of characters to choose from. Tecmo took a lot of inspiration from Sega's Virtua Fighter, and there's a tremendous amount of depth in devising strategies and attack combos.

The graphics in DOA2 were sensational in 2000, one of the Dreamcast's finest hours. It still looks great, doesn't it? The large stages are especially brilliant. I always loved the surprise of knocking an opponent off a ledge or through a window, sending them plummeting below. Why more fighting games don't follow this idea is a bit of a mystery, but I have to remind myself that hardly anybody makes fighting games anymore. It's really down to the handful of long-running franchises now. How boring. Have I mentioned how much I miss video games? It's 2009 and I'd still rather have a Dreamcast.

A Look at Power Stone 1 - Sega Dreamcast

Here's a gameplay video of Capcom's Power Stone, one of the launch titles for Sega Dreamcast, back in September, 1999.  The video quality isn't the best, which is a shame, because this game looks magnificent, high resolution graphics at 60-frames-per-second.  The Power Stone games were real standouts on Dreamcast.

The first Power Stone plays more like a straightforward fighting game, while the sequel is more of a Smash Bros-style mayhem battle for four players.  That was my impression way back when, at least.  If you're a fan of the Capcom fighters, then you'll definitely enjoy this one.

Power Stone 2 on Dreamcast

Sooner or later, I'll have to come up with better post titles.  Anyway, I'm continuing my series of Sega Dreamcast posts in honor of its 10th Anniversary this September.......and I'm really wishing I had one again.  Sigh.  That can be fixed easily, so we'll see what happens with the next available payday.

Power Stone was Capcom's launch title for Dreamcast, and it was one of the standout titles.  It probably would have got more attention if Soul Calibur hadn't stolen all the thunder, but it's a different kind of fighting game, more of a mayhem brawler akin to Nintendo's Smash Brothers.  Capcom followed quickly with Power Stone 2 in 2000, which was heads and shoulders above the original.  Now a 4-player free-for-all, Dreamcast had one of its very best party games.

Power Stone 2 features 13 fighters, a very ecclectic and goofy mix.  There's really not much difference between any of them, which is fine since most of the action involves throwing things at one another.  Each fighter can transform into a superhero state for a short period of time - by collecting three power stones - which can be really super cool to watch.

As you can see from the video, the game environments are a character in themselves.  Many stages include multiple segments and scenes, such as a house that catches on fire, forcing everyone to scale to the roof.  Another stage is inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, with giant rolling boulders and ancient Aztec traps.  The airship stage might be my favorite.  You begin on a giant airship, loaded with several giant cannons.  Over the course of the fight, the plane crumbles and falls apart; it ends with everyone plummeting through the sky to the ground, where another battle arena awaits.

There's one game feature that I really loved in Power Stone 2.  It's a alchemical furnace where you can create new items and weapons, by mixing together items that you collect during matches.  Naturally, there's no expectation what to expect, so there's a spirit of experimenting and goofing around to find some real surprises.

Power Stone 1 and 2 are different enough to make it worth your while to collect both titles.  That was my story back in 2000, and I think it's still valid today.  Dreamcast is a fab games console because of multiplayer arcade classics such as this.  This is a tougher game to find today, so good luck searching around the used bins and Ebay.  It's worth the hunt, trust me.