Carole King: Tapestry

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If you’re in your forties, it’s pretty likely that you have been exposed to the songs on this album since you were very small, be it on the radio by Ms King herself or in covers by your favourite bands when you were a spotty teenager. It’s even more likely that your parents had a copy. It’s one of those seminal works of art in contemporary western cultural history comparable to Warhol’s ‘Campbell Soup’ paintings. For me it’s one of the best albums of all time, next to ‘Rumours’, ‘The White Album’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘The Lexicon of Love’ and of course Matt Bianco’s eponymous second album. There is not a single bad track on the album, but of course the outstanding ones are the much covered ‘I feel the Earth move’, ‘So far away’, ‘It’s too late’, and ‘You’ve got a friend’. I’ve only bought the album a few years ago second hand in a charity shop in Oamaru, and had listened from time to time and always enjoyed its seventies appeal and its sonic simpleness but the copy I had was so scratched that soon enough it wasn’t possible to play it anymore. My digital copies were still intact, but boy, it did sound limited.

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Since I added a SACD player to the living room’s audio setup, I have slowly but surely bought SACD versions of my favourite records to the collection, so I ordered Mobile Fidelity’s SACD edition to replace the old silverling and, suck me sideways: what suddenly came out of the Klipschs was nothing like the muddled, ancient seventies stuff that I was used to. This was suddenly an intimate, very vivid live performance in my living room, with a piano player in the middle. During ‘So far away’ I suddenly picked up the drummers problems with keeping his hihat and bass drum synchronised (I actually never noticed any drums on that track) and the beautiful flowing basslines of Charlie Larkey. Never before did a SACD make such a difference and raise a thick curtain of acoustic muffling to reveal an amazing production. dp

‘Tapestry’ is an amazing album that is close to perfect, and with this edition Mobile Fidelity has produced an absolute stunner. Has been running non-stop for hours now.

The FX-9590: A Whole New Dimension In Madness

While observing me losing against a 14 year old in a Squash game, a friend of mine once commented ‘That Fordie doesn’t have a competetive fibre in his body’. That might be correct when it comes to meaningless things like games in which the main goal of the players seems to sustain a ligamental knee- and/or ankle injury as quickly as possible , but when it comes to the performance of my computer, I do start to get a bit twitchy and keep a virtual eye on the performance of the rest of the users out there. Not that there is a iota of common sense behind behaviour like this, but for goodness’ sake, if a man is not allowed to engage in some primal chest beating about the speed of his computer, what else is there left for us Y chromosome carriers. At least I don’t drive a sports car, have a hair piece or play golf. Fortunately the best girl friend ever (BGE) regards the whole thing as some sort of occupational therapy and is probably quite happy to have me locked away in my play room office for an hour or so, so she can watch Paul O’Grady.

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Paul O’Grady and a Dog

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An AMD FX-9590

 

 

 

 

 

I always thought that my gaming rig office computer had quite a bit of oomph (Sabertooth 990FX 2.0, 16GB Ram, 250 GB SSD, 2x 2 Terabyte HD, R9 290, Asus Sonar Essence for those who really want to know), but it turns out that it’s processor really doesn’t hack it anymore in today’s world of games advanced real word graphic simulations. Because I have a smidgen of loyalty and and I am stuck with an AM3 socket motherboard, there was only one alternative: get a quicker processor from AMD Piledriver’s architecture. So I acquired their quickest one.

The FX-9590 is a bit of a beast. It’s power consumption and heat dissipation is legendary and I was worried that I might overwhelm the local electricity provider but all I did was overwhelm my already massive cooler, as benchmarking resulted in my motherboard shutting things down. So, after getting the only air cooler that apparently handles the heat from the 9590 without it destroying the rest of the motherboard, I spent two very meditative hours trying to hitch the bloody thing up to my motherboard without destroying things (trust me, it has happened).

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Before 9590 implant. Note already quite beefy cooler. iPod classic for size comparison.

 

 

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After successful implantation. That pink thing is a Phantek PH-TC14PE. Sorry for the cable disaster.

 

Ok, so it’s not pretty, but is it working?

Fortunately I can confirm that everything seems to be working spiffingly. CPU temperature at idling (Word, iTunes, Power Point, Firefox and Outlook running parallel) is 32 Celsius, and so far the maximum temperature recorded was during a session of Titanfall at maximum resolution, and at 52 Celsius that was still pretty balmy (especially as the R9 290 gets really hot as well).

So, I still only have a second-rate processor compared to the new generation of Intel’s products, but at least I don’t have to worry heating the house ever again.

 

Alexander O’Neal: ‘Hearsay’ and ‘Live At The Hammersmith Apollo’

 

Sorry for the crappy quality. And that's just the sound of the CD on the right.

Sorry for the crappy quality. And that’s just the sound of the CD on the right.

 

Back in the eighties and nineties Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were my personal heroes. Up there with Mark Fisher, Neil Armstrong and Juri Gagarin. To those not acquainted with these musical demigods, the two are buddies from uni who ended up in a band in Minneapolis called ‘The Time’ – essentially an outlet of Prince’s songwriting material that didn’t make it onto his own albums (he apparently doesn’t sleep much) – with Jellybean Johnson and Morris Day. After becoming independent producers, they pretty much were responsible for creating the ‘Minneapolis Sound’ (together with their tiny ex-boss) and made a gazillion of albums with some more or less talented vocalists. Imagine the Stock/Aitken/Waterman model, just with better music and artists. They could do no wrong (and mostly didn’t). Their sound was instantly recognisable though changed quite significantly throughout the decades. Just for academic purposes, compare the S.O.S. Band’s ‘Just be good to me’ with Janet Jackson’s ‘ ‘Rhythm Nation’ and The Human League’s ‘Human’:

 

Why is this in anyway relevant to this entry? Good question. I might have just got carried away a bit. Well, the point I was trying to make that in the mid eighties these guys were on the ascent to mega-oodle stardom, and on the way produced an album for local singer Alexander O’Neal. Now if you ask me, this is one of the best albums that Jam/Lewis ever made. The up-tempo numbers (Fake/Critize) were unique in both in their chord structure and production and sounded like nothing before. The ballads were engaging and not too boring, and giving it a narrative (from the beginning to the end of a party at O’Neal’s house) makes it even eligible for the seventies moniker of ‘concept album’.

You get it: I like it. It’s one of my most played CDs and it shows. It’s falling apart, there’s beer stains all over it (from numerous DJ gigs) and it’s full of scratches. But to this day, it’s unique and a bright star on Flytetime’s echelon.

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Which brings us to the other CD in this little feature. I was actually quite excited when I saw that this CD existed as I saw the chap live in 1994 with the best brother ever (BBE). This was a great night, with even the BBE shimmying around like a 17 year old. How times have changed. ‘Live at the Hammersmith Apollo’ is O’Neal’s attempt to get some extra dollars from a singular concert in London in 2005. This is a 2 CD set with 14 songs from his first three albums, with most of the ‘Hearsay’ album all present and accounted for. Once you pop the CD in the player, the first you notice is the terrible sound. I am really wondering whether they literally just took the feed of the desk without any editing afterwards. During the introduction the musical director of the show mentions they have an 18 piece band on stage, but they get lost: it’s one big, gooey ghastly sounding mess. I could accept this from a bootleg, but not from something I actually paid money for. Unfortunately once O’Neal does appear there is no improvement. Quickly running out of steam, his fake laugh and painful attempts at banter do annoy quickly. What really pissed me off the most was the ruining of what were supposed to be the highlights of the CD: ‘Critize’ and ‘Fake’ are both up-tempo funk numbers with great harmonies, really showcasing the Jam/Lewis songwriting brillance, but on this record the chord structure has been simplified (or maybe one of the 18 musicians is playing it, but with this sound you certainly can’t pick it up) and some random heavy metal solos ruin it further.

One to avoid like the plague.

The 50 Euro tablet

So I was ambling through the bottomless pit of despair that is Frankfurt Airport’s Terminal 1 to pass the time before my Lusthansa flight back to civilisation, when I felt the uncontrollable urge to enter one of those ‘duty free’ electronic shops sprinkled freely around the airports of this world, drawn like a particularly stupid fly to a liverwurst roll to its earphones, cameras and Iphones of pure gold. After ignoring the usual offerings by Beats for the 3gazillionst time, my eyes swiveled to a table that was decked out in tablets, particularly to one that was rather small and looked a bit podgy (the tablet, not the table). This was the Denver TAC-70111 , a 7″ tablet running Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) by the Danish importer DENVER, sold new for 50 Euro (£ 41). I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist. This was just too tempting. While the best girlfriend ever rolled her eyes, I jumped like a little puppy to the check out, where the manager knowingly commented that they had tested the device at their shop and pronounced it better than expected.

As we had a good hour to wile away before our departure beyond the channel, I unboxed it and started to play around with it. First thoughts were obviously underwhelming: no Bluetooth, no mobile data, no camera on the back of the device. No home button. 512 MB DDR3 ram and 4 GB storage. But, it booted without problems, updated itself quickly and was by all means a fully functioning tablet, albeit with the speed of a pony that is carrying an overweight, hippophobic American tourist on Blackpool beach.

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Quick size comparison: Note 3, TAC-70111, Ipad Air

The screen is not particularly bright and has a sub-par resolution of 800×480, but is moderately responsive. There is a micro-SD card slot that will expand the built-in storage, a micro-usb adapter and a AC adapter, so the bare necessities are certainly there. The main problem is undoubtedly though the CPU: a single core allegedly running at 1.2 GHZ and there is no specsheet on the net that actually names it which is decidedly dodgy. JFDP Labs’ Hardware Info gives the following specs and makes the hardware manufacturer out as another Shengzen company, Itek :

Processor: ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)

Cores: 1

Max Frequency: 1200 Mhz

After many hours of research and downloading more hardware info proggies I am now convinced that this is a Allwinner A13 platform, a Chinese all-in-one computer that pretty much runs half the entertainment infrastructure of the world. Now this isn’t the world’s fastest processor and Mobo, but together with a mali 400mp graphic unit, the little thing is able to play content on the BBC’s Iplayer without hitch:

 

If this is stuttering, it’s your connection, not the tablet.

Now, for 41 quid I already had hours of geeky fun, a functioning toy to play with on the train and a possible gift for my nephew, though he’s not going to get it before I installed Cyanogenmod on it. Would I advise you to buy one? If there’s only a smidgen of nerdblood (technical term) in you, you’ll fire up your browser now and buy it this very second.  You might have more fun than that time when you tried to install OpenBSD on your first Gameboy.

Stay tuned for the report on Cyanogen insertion.

Runrig: Amazing Things

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Runrig was one of the reasons that I physically was much fitter in the nineties. As their songs were inexplicably played on German radio station SWR3 on an all too frequent basis, it was one of the most common reasons to engage in a mad, fast dash to all radios in the vicinity to switch the channel as quickly as possible to get rid of their aurally upsetting noodling.  I have never understood the German fascination with Runrig in the nineties, but then I didn’t get the David Hasselhoff thing or the Scorpions either. I have probably spent too long to in the UK to be devoid of an irony switch.

I was given this CD by a true fan. He recites his Runrig live experiences as some of the most profound of his life, at which stage his long suffering girlfriend would normally start to gag and roll her eyes while the conversation often would die down and enter one of these embarrassing pauses that can only be changed with either a comment about the weather or last week’s performance by Sheffield Wednesday. He insisted playing it all evening that night I was given this poisoned chalice and since then it has been sitting in my CD-collection. Unheard for 13 years.

Until today.

I listened to it intently while writing a paper for the Open University which only inspired me to focus more on my work. There was much celtic troubadouring, fiddles, bagpipes, electronic percussion and a singer who obviously took himself very serious. Lyrics like ‘Lifetimes in memory, flesh being born: but this is the age of invisible dawn’ littered the album. It sounded like a drunk Scotsman trying to sing the karaoke version of some eighties Bon Jovi material with added ‘celtic’ bits in it.

Bill Bailey famously called music like this famously ‘some old celtic bollocks’.

I agree. I think I will use this as my new favourite coaster to avoid coffee stains on the furniture.

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