Gary Wright – “The Dream Weaver” (1975)

In 1989 I traveled all the way across the country, from Seattle to Pittsburgh, to attend college.  Like so many incoming freshman I was excited about this first opportunity to be “on my own”, and also like so many of them I quickly discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be.  Fortunately for me I found an accepting group of guys who took me in when I was at my most lost and vulnerable, and while I didn’t stick it out in Pittsburgh they were the only reason I maintained my sanity for those six months.

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There were, of course, parties, because this was college.  And one thing I’ll always remember is that at some point, as the party was winding down and there were just a few people left, someone would insist on playing Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”.  And it was always the perfect thing to play in that late night/early morning alcohol haze.  Sometimes we sang, sometimes we listened and swayed back and forth, Gary’s voice transporting us to somewhere that wasn’t on this plane of existence.  As stupid as it may sound, it’s one of the memories from that time I will cherish forever.

The Dream Weaver was in one of the boxes of freebies I got the other day and I knew instantly that I had to clean it up and play it.  Needless to say I started it on side B because “Dream Weaver” opens that side.  But as that finished I realized I had no idea of what to expect next – I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard another Gary Wright song!  “Much Higher” is pretty cool, and overall there’s a sort of futuristic-funk feel to things.  And “Love Is Alive” is a stone-cold jam.  I’ve got to say, The Dream Weaver is pretty solid top to bottom.

Pink Floyd – “Wish You Were Here” (1975 / 1980) Half-Speed Mastered

I have way too many albums in my “To Listen To” pile.  In fact there’s so much that it is no longer one pile but instead has spread into multiple places like an infestation.  A few dozen in the Flipbin dedicated to new arrivals, another 40 or so on various Ikea shelves, and two stacks of CDs and cassettes on the dining room table.  It’s an embarrassment of riches, and quite frankly it stresses me out.  I don’t plan on writing about everything, but it’s still a lot to get through!

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A few weeks back I got three big boxes of stuff from someone at work who was going to give them to Goodwill.  There turned out to be some fun stuff in there.  I’d never gotten into The Who, but now I have a half dozen of their albums to play.  Everything from Black Sabbath to Nancy Sinatra, Flock of Seagulls to Sherlock Holmes mystery box sets.  But perhaps the most intriguing gem was this 1980 half-speed mastered version of Pink Floyd’s 1975 classic Wish You Were Here.  I’ve heard this album a hundred times or more over the years, though always on CD.  I’m very familiar with it, including its minutiae, so I’m wondering how this version will sound.  The half-speed mastering process is supposed to render a more accurate recording and CBS also invested in higher end vinyl for these pressings.  The question is, will I be able to tell the difference?  Will it live up to the hype?  I have a great starting point, because this copy is pristine and fresh from a cleaning on the Okki Nokki.

Wish You Were Here is a perfect choice for this kind of high-end treatment.  Lots of quiet parts, slow builds, and isolated instruments and vocals.  And I have to say, this thing sounds tremendous. (♠)  The sonics are bright, especially the vocals on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, and the saxophone section on that same track is out of this world.  The most noticeable parts are the quietest – the sound is coming at you from a truly quiet background with no hiss or residual noise.  The intro to “Welcome To The Machine” captures this perfectly, as does the transition from “Have A Cigar” to “Wish You Were Here”.  If anything sells me on how much of an effect this is having on me it’s that I’m not singing along, something I always do when I listen to Wish You Were Here.  I’m not staying quiet because my singing sucks (although it does, massively), but because I want to hear the vocals as clearly as possible.  There’s a subtlety to the harmonizing that frankly I’ve missed over all these years, a hint of low end that provides a base for the parts that soar.  You also hear a rawness to the vocals on “Wish You Were Here” that make you feel like you’re in the room with the musicians.  And the synths… well I’m sure you can guess that the synths are like having the instrument output plugged directly into your brain, like you’re actually living inside Blade Runner.

It looks like this 1980 version typically sells in the $70-100 range, with recorded sales as high as $150.  Is it worth it?  Well… dammit, it might be.  It’s definitely one of the very best sounding records I have on my shelves.  If you’re a major fan of Wish You Were Here I have a hard time believing that there’s a better sounding version than this one, and if you have a stereo that’s good enough to take advantage of the fidelity, you’ll love the listening experience.

(♠)  I’m playing it on a Rega P6 turntable, through a Rega Brio amp and using Rega bookshelf speakers.

“Heavy Metal – Music From The Motion Picture” (1981)

Print may not be dead, but at the very least it’s been in a bad accident and is trying to drag itself away from the wreck before something explodes.  Will it rebound the way vinyl did?  Only time will tell.  But back in the 1980s print was what we had.  If you wanted to learn about something you had to pick up a book, magazine, or newspaper.  There were lots of speciality publications, and as a teen I gravitated towards some of the slick sci-fi rags like Omni and, of course, Heavy Metal.  The latter spun off an animated, rock-soundtracked film that was a frequent rental by people of a certain age, mostly young men, who were attracted to both the imagery and music.  Back then anime wasn’t readily available other than maybe some Sunday morning episodes of Star Blazers (if you were lucky), so this was a whole other world.

A few weeks back I got three big boxes of records from someone at work who was cleaning house.  Most of it was 1960s to 1980s rock, some titles in my wheelhouse, others not.  But one thing I knew I was going to keep as soon as I saw it was the soundtrack to Heavy Metal.

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Now you’d think that the soundtrack to a movie called Heavy Metal would be chock full of bands that play, well, heavy metal.  But that’s not really the case.  Yes, there is a Black Sabbath track on here (“The Mob Rules”), but the rest is decidedly un-metal, though Sammy Hagar contributes a song called “Heavy Metal”.  Devo and Cheap Trick, however, are not heavy metal, and Journey is neither heavy nor metal.  That being said, this is a solid record full of artists you know playing songs you don’t.  My favorite hands down is Blue Öyster Cult’s “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars”, a song Metallica recently covered on Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic At The Masonic.

I was going to watch the movie as part of this post, but when I found it on Amazon Prime it was a rental… and somehow it just didn’t seem worth four bucks when I could just play the record.

Egotronic – “Keine Argumente!” (2017)

I get a bit leery when it comes to writing about artists who are considered to be overtly political, especially when it involves politics outside of my home country.  You can find some superficial info online about even the most fringe movements, but without understanding the true core beliefs as well as how they are perceived in their homeland, it’s a bit of a tightrope.  Add to that lyrics that aren’t in English and I run the risk of writing about some musician or band whose politics and beliefs I would personally find offensive.  Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it’s OK to separate the art from the beliefs of the artist, but some beliefs are automatic disqualifiers for me, as I’m sure they are for many of you.

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Which brings us to the German band Egotronic, a band labelled as being well known for its “Antideutsch” views.  The movement itself is generally described as far left, extremely anti-nationalistic, and against anti-Semitism.  That is, of course, a massive over-simplification of something I couldn’t even begin to hope to understand without being immersed in German society and understanding the language.  But on the surface I didn’t see anything that would keep me from enjoying and writing about Keine Argumente!, so away we go.

Stylistically it’s a blend of punk attitude, rock, and chiptune, which on the surface doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that should work.  But it does.  The chiptune elements take the hard edges off, creating a sensation that is both retro and futuristic at the same time.  In fact it’s of paramount importance to Keine Argumente! in one key way.  The album is 2 X LP, with the first record comprised of a dozen songs, while the second… the second is 8-bit versions of the exact same songs.  Which is a major trip, and kind of cool in a way, totally changing the experience.  I’m not even sure which version I prefer because I like ’em both.

Schwund – “Technik Und Gefühl” (2019)

schwundtechnikI picked this up at Berlin’s Bis Auf Messer Records on our recent visit to Germany.  I can’t find a lot of info about Schwund online, and almost nothing at all in English.  I’ve seen them described as punk, post-punk, and experimental… based on what I hear on Technik Und Gefühl it’s more toward the experimental side of the spectrum, perhaps even going as far as to use the dreaded term avant-garde.  The songs have structure, but also tend to wander around, sometimes into unexpected territory.  The constant is the use of synths in retro and unusual ways – “Binär-Indianer” makes you feel like some kind of demented circus just pulled into town, while I wouldn’t be surprised if the underlying rhythm on “Gut Gefunden” was actually one of the presets that was on the old cheap Casio keyboard I owned in the 80s.

It appears the vinyl version of Technik Und Gefühl clocks in around 49 minutes and is limited to 200 copies.  However, there is also an even more limited cassette version (100 copies) that contains an additional 32 minutes of music.  Copies of each are available on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE.  If you only have time to check out a few tracks I recommend starting with “Taxi”, which is perhaps a bit less avant-garde than the rest of the album while also being its most fully realized song.