Duquette Johnston Review + Giveaway

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I’ve not done a record review post in a loooong while. Having no time to sit and relax with an album is one thing, but also I like to wait for interesting and smaller release gems too. Not that I think I’m some record finding wizard – it’s just that with so many reviews out there, who needs to hear another person talking about some big budget crusher, right?

Anyway… My reviews are biased since I only talk about stuff I like, and I feel like a music review is more about finding leads than anything. I’m giving you a lead about this cool fellow named Duquette Johnston and you follow up by listening to some samples and deciding a coolness level for yourself.

Granted, I’ll be honest and say you should take my word without question… Rabbit Runs A Destiny is a standout record. Things start off with a cool, low driving track, Heart Is Breaking. It’s a great start as the album rolls into some heavier songs, like the title track and then meanders back to some slower, more deliberate songs. I typically like the sad stuff, and even though this isn’t a sad record, there’s some real solidly heavy ones… Cherry Blossoms is a favorite.

So another biased angle to this review is a bona fide give-away. I’m buying the record for you, but Duq was gracious enough to send a t-shirt to the winner too. Just comment with a hello or maybe a new album you like and I’ll choose a random number and count out the commenter. Be sure to include your email addr where necessary and I’ll contact you after the drawing end, on January 28th. Open to everyone, I’ll pick up the international shipping too. Good luck!

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Grenson Dylan Review

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So, I’ve been pining for a pair of Grensons for a long, long time, but have never pulled the trigger until recently. My biggest hesitation was that there’s no close retailers to try them on, and I wanted to make damn sure they fit right before ordering from the UK. Seems there’s a retailer in Los Angeles somewhere, but after see how the dollar is pleasantly strong against the euro, I could get a much better deal with not much shipping cost from the UK.  Part of this post is a review, but part of it is to confirm that the sizing conversion is actually excellent for any one else that’s having the same hesitation.

If you’re familiar with quality constructed shoes, you’ve probably heard of Grenson, and you know what it takes to make a solid, Goodyear Welted shoe. Creating a shoe this way through the Grenson assembly line takes about three weeks. Figure your own hourly rate, multiply that by three weeks, then see how that compares to the cost of a pair… they’ll look like a STEAL. Considering a shoe like this will last 10+ years with proper care and resoling, you’re doing yourself a huge favor.

I’ve always loved the styling of Grensons. They use the classic brogue styling, but always seemed a twist more modern than Aldens and the like. I want a classic wing-tip, but I don’t necessarily want to look like a 60 year old banker. I went with the Dylan model with a red brick rubber sole. Seemed more appropriate for summer, even though it’s about over. Having the rubber sole makes these very light, and they are unlined, so they’re much cooler in warm temps too. The leather is just the right about of sturdiness without being too hard for a mean break-in. In fact, they felt perfectly comfortable after only a couple wears. I’ve worn them plenty in the past few weeks and they still look brand new.

photo credits to Lisa Warninger

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Basia Bulat Review and Giveaway

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I don’t really understand the classification of Folk music. There’s so many sub-genres and variations, and the only tie I can usually make is that it might be primarily acoustic? Folk artists of the 60s tend to pop into my mind first, then I think of Eugene Levy’s character in “A Mighty Wind.”

Basia Bulat is largely considered a folk artist. You’ll read that she plays the autoharp. You might also hear that this album was primarily written while touring through the Yukon. All of these details set a certain expectation for some typically sleepy folk music, right? So you put this record on your turntable and sit back expecting something wistful and sleepy and then the first track ‘Go On’ starts with a little strumming and interestingly sweet vocals as you’d expect… then the drumming starts. And the rhythm gets a little feverish. Then the strings come in. Vocals are getting stronger and you find that you’re not just tapping to it, but you’re kind of stomping!

‘Go On’ seems like the greatest way to start this record. It gets you excited, breaks any notion of what you might be expecting, and then lets the rest of the record unfold. From there, you really notice the contrast in each song – some more complicated and large, some so simple and delicate. ‘Sugar and Spice’ politely scales things back a little, only to break away with another dense and feverishly urgent run with ‘Gold Rush’. Each song shows Basia’s diversity, yet they all weave together for wonderfully cohesive album.

There’s a few great videos available to listen on Basia’s website – my favorite being the ‘Heart of My Own’ performance. Have a listen, see what you think, and if you’re really liking it as much as I am, maybe you’d like a chance for some giveaway loot?

Thanks to a fine friend, the Art Counsel, I’ve got some goodies to give away. One lucky reader will win a copy of Basia’s recent album on vinyl, and one lucky LOCAL winner will get 2 passes to see her upcoming show at The Woods on June 2nd. (Where I bet she’ll be playing this new song.)

Just leave a comment below to say hello, or tell me about your latest favorite record, or whatever… and I’ll draw a winner for the record. As for the tickets – indicate whether you’re available to attend the show in your comment, and I’ll choose the winner from those. I’ll announce the winners one week from today, on Monday, May 30. Good luck!

 

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The Middle East review and giveaway

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Lately I’ve been listening to this wonderful band called The Middle East, thanks to the discovery by my friend, Martin. He introduced our office to them and we’ve all been listening via Pandora since about November. When I left for Kansas over Christmas break, I finally downloaded the full EP and really gave it full attention during my travels.

It’s hard to describe the band… they’re slightly poppy, more so folkish, somewhat atmospheric, uplifting yet sad. As you listen, you’re going to want to cry… partly for the lyrics, mostly because you can see the scene playing out in your head like a tragic movie. Suddenly trumpets kick in and you’re instantly optimistic once again. It’s really amazing, actually.

“The Darkest Side” starts with an intricately finger-picked guitar followed by brilliantly solumn vocals. The song sound like it’s fifty years old – but you know that can’t be true when it mentions ‘SimCity’. I know it sounds odd, but it completely works. Download it via Pitchfork for free and have a listen.

“Lonely” plays and it pretty much takes you where you think it would… but then “Blood” is the next track and you’re all spritely again. Even though it’s still a completely heavy song, it’s strangely comforting (This is the one where the trumpets help). The song and accompanying video are equally breath-taking. Even another free download!

Needless to say, I really fell in love with this record. Once that happened – I knew I had to get it on vinyl to REALLY obsess over it. Once I found a place that had stock, I bought two – one for me and one for you! To fully share this great album, I thought it would be fun to have a little giveaway (and with free shipping anywhere in the world).

One easy way to enter – just comment here and tell me your latest favorite album. Make sure you include a correct email address so I can contact the winner. While you’re waiting to win, you can buy the EP digitally from the band for $5 (You might as well, as the vinyl doesn’t come with a free download). Good luck, and thanks for entering! P.S. forgot to say… deadline to enter will be Feb 10.

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Bigger Sound

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As a tinkerer and gadget lover, I couldn’t not be an aspiring audiophile too. Though, when the term ‘audiophile’ is thrown around, it conjures up some lofty, expensive, snobby impressions sometimes. (BTW, someone had a JBL Paragon on Portland Craigslist the other day, listed for $20,000.) I’m all for clean, beautiful sound, but I tend to look at these things differently – as part aesthetics-loving designer, part bargain hunter. I think the best deals in audio equipment should be attainably priced, and deliver a noticeable improvement in listening quality. That’s what we all want, right? When you’ve spend hard-earned money on something, you want to seriously notice an improvement.

Anyway, all of this brings me to a couple reviews of some inexpensive, yet high quality audio goods. This post is about the NuForce uDAC-2, and later on – I have one planned for my Cambridge phono pre-amp.

So, what is a DAC? DAC stands for digital audio converter. When you have music files on your computer, they are probably MP3 or similar format. MP3s are compressed, so you lose quality of the recording to get a much smaller file – so you can fit more of them on your portable devices. Which is fine… but when you have decent headphones, you’re going to hear a difference in quality. As your computer plays digital files, before coming out of your headphone jack, it has to convert them to an analog signal. Inside your computer is a tiny, and not terribly accurate, DAC. What an external DAC gives you is much cleaner, more accurate representation of the music, and even makes low-quality files sound much better.

Why do I need a DAC? Well, no one really NEEDS this crap, right? But, if you’re inclined to pay for better sound, this makes sense if you listen to a lot of music from your computer and have a quality set of headphones. (Mine are Grado SR60s, by the way.) Most of my audio files are MPEGs and AAC files from the iTunes store, and when I’m working, they are playing from my MacBook Pro. The NuForce DAC also has RCA outs, so you can easily plug it into your home stereo input as well. They do make a cheaper version with just a headphone mini-jack out, but I thought RCAs would give more versatility.

Well, what’s the result? Upon purchasing, I was still slightly skeptical, but was really hoping it would live up to the good reviews. When I got it, I plugged it in and started listening. Immediately I could tell a difference. Recordings sounded more detailed, cleaner, with a bigger soundstage than before. (‘bigger soundstage?‘ That sounds pompous.) What I mean, is that there seems to be more definition in the instruments… a analogy would be to think of how your favorite band would sound crammed together in your bathroom – and then think about how they would sound while playing in Nigel Godrich’s basement*.

What is the lesson here? You obviously don’t NEED this item, but if you like gadgets and crave good sounding music, it’s definitely worthy. Comparing its $129 price tag to the amount of time spent listening to music at my desk, I don’t regret it one bit.

*yes, I know it’s not his personal basement.

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Mighty Clouds Record Review

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It seems rare these days that I find an album where I love every single song. Even some of my favorite records contain at least one that isn’t my taste. For the past five days, I’ve been listening to a new self-titled album by Mighty Clouds and I think I love every song. I’ve even gotten to the point of worrying that I burnt myself out, but I keep listening – and I’m now growing even more fond of it.

Mighty Clouds is a new project led by Fred Thomas and Betty Marie Barnes, who’ve previously recorded together as the band, Saturday Looks Good To Me. That band’s album, “All Your Summer Songs” was an endearing record, reminiscent of vintage pop and multi-instrument bliss. It was a warm, familiar sound, though to me, kept trying to be too many things. Each song seemed to take it’s own path, whereas on “Mighty Clouds”, there seem to be one, unified plan. I’m not saying “All Your Summer Songs” is bad, because it’s excellent… just different. In my current listening pattern, “Mighty Clouds” is the winner.

This album has a well-crafted build to it. Fred Thomas is a crazy-busy artist and he’s obviously put in the allotted ten-thousand-genius-hours a long time ago. The song “Past Lives” starts out with Betty’s amazing vocals and some sparse acoustic guitar, but soon rolls into a comfortably lush sound. There’s so many instruments building into the album, but it never feels crowded. Each song seems to build on the previous, making it so cohesive – you could never buy just a single song. I feel bad even having it shuffled. So many good elements to this project, the vocals are playful yet gripping, guitars perfectly jangly, bells, horns, percussion… but my favorite might be the bass guitar. Once you get to “Spell It Out”, the bass drives the song, and every other element accompanies perfectly. On “Stay Single”, it sneaks up on you ferociously and with so much fuzz, you’ll go crazy. (“Stay Single” is a free download from Polyvinyl too!)

A side note to the fuzz: This sound was first made popular with a country record – a 1960 hit by Marty Robbins, “Don’t Worry”. It was due to faulty electronics, though the sound engineer, Glen Snoddy, decided it must stay in the record. Kubton.com has a great history of fuzz, and to hear the recording – check this video. The magic begins about 1:37.

I really feel this is going to be one of this years’ darlings, so seek it out… listen to some samples… and I know you’re gonna want it. I got my copy via Polyvinyl, where they are offering the 180 gram cloudy vinyl with an instant download. If you’re a digital kid, the band is offering the album with audiophile quality tracks at their site for super bargain of $5.00!

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Clark’s Wallabees Review

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So, from time to time, I think I’ll throw in a review here and there. These are not sponsored, and completely unpaid. I’ll only talk about products/items I fully like, and they must be relevant to the Wood&Faulk theme. With that said, let’s talk about my new pair of Wallabees.

The current trend of throw-back, mocassin-style, established-company, old-world-thing has brought many classic styles back into popularity, and I’m sure for Clark’s – they are thankful. Even though being in business since 1825 isn’t a really trend, it sure fits what is currently trendy, right? I love the classics… but am I just caught in the current trend? Do I act all pompous and wax poetic about classics and tradition and such bullshit? I like to think I’m a classic fellow, but will I be wearing some TRON-looking outfit in two years? Anyway, I’m way off on a tangent. Let’s just talk about the shoes.

First impressions are great. Clark’s has great attention to detail with the clean box, the fringed tag on the shoes, the little book with their story included. The shoes are simple enough, but well crafted. Not in a “Yuketen well-crafted” way, mind you – but for a factory-made shoe, they are quite well done. I ordered taupe, which turns out is a distressed colorway, and they had just the right amount of distress as to not look all shiny-poindexter. Some clothing distressing tries too hard, and I’m not really a fan of that when it’s faked. Or poorly faked at least. These passed the test.

Upon wearing around the house, I had to get used to the stacked gum-eraser sole, but they were certainly comfortable. Like walking on over-inflated tires. I was a little concerned about wobbling off the gummy edge, but after a little while I didn’t notice it. The suede is very supple and the insole is quite comfortable; although without tons of support. Laces are cloth, and being the same color, don’t detract from the leather in any way. Worrying about suede in a Portland climate, I sprayed them with protector after a couple wears, which thankfully didn’t affect the color at all, and surely helped keep them looking great after a couple rainy days. I’ve had them for a few weeks now and have been wearing them quite often. I really love the style with jeans, and being so comfortable – they might just be your new favorite.

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