Records I Have Listened To and How Good They Have Sounded

My musical taste is my own, and yours is yours. The grades assigned here are purely on the basis of production and pressing quality. If it gives me audio thrills aplenty, it gets an A.

C

Bill Callahan (well, [Smog]), Supper (Drag City, 2003) is a B+ pressing. On “Truth Serum”: A little shrill bit some digital seeming glare. Things don’t quite snap like they should, heavy on the lower mids. But “Anniversary” sounds great, especially the big puffy bass. Cymbals not bad either. One of my fave Bill Callahan records. B+

Can, Future Days (United Artists USA, 1974). Stunning high A, especially on Side 1. Side 2 has quite a bit of “mid hump” in the form of the bass guitar on my Oct 2020 system, which takes some of the pleasure away. (Note to self: This is the side to test for de-ringing my LP12.) A

Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia USA, 2016). Cohen’s voice on this record is an experience in itself: Thunder Helicopter Methuselah. It’s amazingly — if somewhat non-realistically — produced and vibrates your whole body. The rest isn’t quite up to that level: drums are a bit flat, guitars lack a bit of sharpness, and nothing quite swings like it should (“On the Level” has lots of swing potential). I do like how they left the background singers’ inhales in place. B+

Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance (Columbia USA, 2019). The production on Cohen’s voice is less Thunder Helicopter on this one that You Want It Darker — more natural but less exciting. The production on everything else shimmers just a bit more — “The Night of Santiago” is especially audiophilic, but then anything with clapping sounds is sort of cheating — but I think as a visceral experience it’s a bit less fun than Darker. B+

Ornette Coleman, Something Else!!!! (Contemporary USA, late 60s reissue). Great recording and sounds from Ornette and Don Cherry, but drums aren’t well recorded (weird for a DuNann disc) and the hard-panned stereo presentation makes no sense: drums, piano, bass on the right, Ornette and Don jammed together on the left — seriously? Check out “Lonely Woman” for the correct way of doing that. B

Ornette Coleman, Tomorrow is the Question! (Contemporary USA, 1959). Deep groove black label first pressing. Ornette and Don are at least set up correctly in the stereo space this time. Sonically in another league from my pressing of Something Else, too. Sharp, spacious sax and trumpet, beautiful deep round bass, crisp cymbals. A

Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic USA, 1966). This mid-60s reissue with the green and blue label is an absolute stunner. The opening of “Lonely Woman” — quiet, distant, muted bass and drums… then Ornette and Don jump out from behind a curtain with super sharp, ultra-wide reeds — is one of my absolute favourite hifi moments. Haven’t heard a first pressing, but feel I don’t need to. No, the rest of the album isn’t quite up to the level of Contemporary audiophilia, but that opening gets this disc an automatic A+ (But being really honest, the rest of the disc is about a B+ — mic those drums and bass closer!!)

Ornette Coleman, Change of the Century (Atlantic USA, 1962). Another mid-60s reissue with gren/blue labels. Doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the “Lonely Woman” opening, so you’re left more to evaluate it for what it is. “Ramblin'” might be my favourite Ornette song — I always think of Mickey Mouse — but not much in the way of audio thrills: sax sounds great, trumpet is a bit muted, drums are barely audible, bass strangely mic’ed, boomy and a bit overly prominent. Other tracks are better, but never thrilling. B

Graham Coxon, The Spinning Top (Transgressive UK, 2009). A forgotten classic in every sense. The music is amazing, the arrangements are original, the production (by Stephen Street) is stunning, this pressing is exceptional. Especially superb are the acoustic guitars (obviously, this is an acoustic guitar record)… and that cool droning instrument right at the start of the “Look into the Light.” Reference disc for me. A+

D

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Columbia Canada, 1970). In my friend’s borrowed copy, worse for wear but meticulously cleaned, a solid B+ that’s nice and wide and with crisp textures but plonky, thuddy bass sounds. B+

Devo, Are We Not Men? (Warner Canada, 1978). Coolest marble vinyl ever on one of my desert island discs. Sadly a flat and boxy recording/pressing. Musical thrills en masse, gorgeous vinyl, no ear candy. C

Devo, Are We Not Men? (Warner Japan, 1978). Lots more life than the Canadian pressing — deeper, richer bass, more believable drums — despite the boring black vinyl. Still nothing to write home from an audio perspective. Honestly I’d rather have the one with the cool marbled vinyl! B

Bob Dylan, “Love and Theft” (Columbia US, 2001). I was smart to be buying new vinyl in 2001. I haven’t heard any reissues but hard to imagine they could sound as good as this. Especially strong on guitars and drums. Everything’s an A, but the highlight track production-wise is the closer, “Sugar Baby,” which is thick and full and sweet and delicate, just gorgeous, a definite A+ showoff track. A

G

The Go-Betweens, Fountains of Youth (from G is for Go-Betweens, Domino, 2019). Not the best performance of all time, not my absolute favourite Go-Betweens period, but a real gift to have a live recording of this quality (the liner notes reveal it was recorded on 24-track 2-inch analogue tape) released on good quality double-vinyl. A lot of the Grant songs are painful to get through, but that’s just me. Robert standouts like “Part Company” and “Karen” are included and sound very good — the latter is actually a classic performance. B+

The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane (Beggars Banquet UK, 1988). An exceptional pressing of an exceptionally well-produced, musically exceptional album. Everything there is to love about 80s production is here: it’s glossy, it’s clean, it has juicy bass and great grip on the kick drum. “Dive for Your Memory” will make you cry. A

The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane (from G is for Go-Betweens, Domino, 2019). Just a step behind the original UK first pressing. Still really good, just lacking a bit of shimmer, some atmosphere. B+

H

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (Apple Germany, 1970?). I heard good things about this pressing, but it’s nothing special. Maybe it’s just the unfocused Spector Wall of Sound, but Side A (which I adore musically, obviously) is a bit of mess, screechy, unfocused, harsh, unpleasant. “Wah Wah” is especially unlistenable (appropriate, I guess, given the content). Things do get better on Side C, with “Apple Scruffs” in particular sounding pretty nice and sharp. (I listened to my Mom’s beat up 1970 Canadian, and my guess is that my problem is with the production, not the German pressing.) B-

Dave Holland/Sam Rivers (Improvising Artists, 1976). It’s an A pressing — intimate, fine details audible, most notably tapping of hands against bass. Beautiful tones from Rivers, especially the alto sax. Not much happening in the soundstage, so hard to give it an A+, but who knows, and superb nonetheless. (Music is good too.) A

Motohiko Hino Quartet +1, “Ryuhyo”/Sailing Ice (Three Blind Mice, 1976). A+ mind-boggler. The start of side two (weird electric bass + evil bird sounds) is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard on my stereo. Musically, Side 1 is a bit boring by Side 2 is awesome. Maybe a bit shrill/bright generally… but the start of Side 2 makes up for everything. A+

J

Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (Factory Records, 1980). My fairly early “PRS” pressing doesn’t sound very good: blunt, bludgeoning drums, painfully shrill everything else. A few fun little Hannett flourishes in the soundstage… but sonically not living up to the music on this pressing, not at all. B-

M

Charles Mingus, Mingus Dynasty (Sony Japan, 1970). Reference quality. Insane. Some Japanese pressings are just astoundingly good, and this is one of them. Easily sounds as good as my first Canadian pressing of Ah Um, same production team and approach. A+

N

New Order, Movement (Factory/Polygram Canada, 1981). Doesn’t quite live up to its billing as a first pressing Martin Hannett disc — some fun sounds, some cool effects on the soundstage, but overall a bit of a bummer production-wise just as it is musically. B

S

Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, Superman cover, 2005). Despite being slightly embarrassed for some reason for loving this record, I love this record. It makes me sad, but I’m happy I have the first pressing and that I paid $18 for it in 2005 at Rotate This (sticker still on). “Casimir Pulaski Day” is obviously the best track and sounds great, a solid B+, in this pressing, but overall, not a great-sounding record. Mine’s on thin vinyl and a little warped. (Might change my verdict after washing?) B

W

Walkmen, Black and White (Troubleman Unlimited, 2014). Great music, great-looking marbled vinyl, rare as hen’s teeth (I got it in 2014 for $14 from Rotate This). But only a high B/B+ — lots of potential here with atmospheric arrangements and fun instruments (especially that barroom piano) but let down by engineering/mastering/pressing. B

White Stripes, Elephant (V2 red + white, 2003). I bought this mail-order from Scratch Records in 2003, along with all the other White Stripes records I could afford. Very cool red + white vinyl, and a nice anti-digital manifesto in the picture sleeve for disc 2. Excellent recording and pressing, no doubt in part because it’s stridently all-analogue! I would say “excellent guitar and drum sounds,” but then what else is there? Standout hifi track is “Ball and Biscuit.” A

The Who, Quadrophenia (Track/MCA, 1973). Early US pressing. Side A sounds really flat with a weird overemphasis on the bass. It improves through the side — so maybe just something with my pressing? Side C, starting with “5:15,” is a lot of fun: big, bold, much clearer (though still with some distance on vocals, a bit too much bass emphasis). Overall about a B, with some nasty C passages but some thrilling A- moments. B

Hal Willner (producer), Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films (A&M US, 1988). A+ recording and pressing, one of my go-to test discs, particularly remarkable for the depth, width, and complexity of the (appropriately) cinematic soundscapes. A stunning record musically, too — couldn’t recommend this more highly. Definitely one for the grown ups. (Thanks Adam C. for the incredibly generous gift!) A+

Y

Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador US, 2000). Some tracks are really gorgeous — spacious, delicate, subtle — and almost get into the A range. But grainy vocals and flat drums on some tracks (“You Can Have It All”) spoils things a bit. Awesome bass sound at the start of “Madeline” is the highlight sonically. “Tired Hippo” is a treat too with lots of great sounds and some fun production tricks.. Obviously an incomparably excellent record, but uneven as audiophilia, even my lovely NM first pressing (wonder when/where I bought it?). B+

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