New from the Vaults for October 9, 2012: R.E.M. in High-Rez, Squeeze Live, and More

Squeezing out Live Sparks

One of our favorite bands, Squeeze, is jumping on the direct-to-fan bandwagon with a bit of twist. Instead of just selling you a concert recording of hits, it will be a concert recording with brand NEW material. On the upcoming UK tour in November and December, founding members and songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford will connect with fans at their pop-up shop each night after the shows where fans will then be able to buy a recording of that evening's show which will include the first new Squeeze songs for 14 years.

In a recent article in trade publication MusicWeek, Tillbrook tells us all about it:

I love the opportunities and surprises thrown up by the digital age and the fading away of the major labels. Being able to innovate and take control of our own destiny is something I could only have dreamt of back then. So this Pop Up Shop tour is where we're at now... With the traditional record label no longer relevant for us, our relationship with the merchandisers is increasingly important in order to help us deliver quality products for our fans.

Hopefully the pop-up-shop tour will prove successful for the band so they can bring the show and the new music to America next year. In the mean time, watch for a October 12 BBC4 airing of a brand new documentary called 'Squeeze: Take Me I'm Yours,' a look at Difford and Tillbrook as composers and the remarkable staying power of Squeeze as a band, claiming its unique spot in British pop.

And there is a new 1981 Squeeze show up on Wolfgang's Vault which presents the band breaking out new tunes from its yet-to-be-released breakthrough album "Eastside Story." Though they don't yet do that tune, Eastside is the album the hit song Tempted sung by new member Paul Carrack However, as they were doing on that tour, the band did break out a cover of "How Long," a 1975 hit from Carrack's old band Ace. And you can check out that show.

And while you're at it, listen to a longer show recorded just 5 months later including "Tempted" and more!

And speaking of Wolfgang's Vault. . .

Wolfgang's Vault Freebies

Ok, so I have to spell out here that I as a writer, nor S+V as a publication, have any affiliation or allegiance to any particular company. But when we see a good deal we think our readers will appreciate, we will keep you informed. Thus we are passing along this nifty deal offer from the good folks at Wolfgang's Vault:

Beginning Saturday, October 6, paid Concert Vault members will be able to download an exclusive concert each week for free. Each of these concerts, chosen from our favorite music in the Vault, will be available for free download for ONE WEEK only - so if you're not yet a full member, sign up before it's too late to get the show you want.

Which reminds me, I have to renew my subscription there - this should be fun!

Amoeba Offers Obscure Downloads

West Coast music retailer Amoeba Records is getting into the downloads game. But they are offering obscurities not out on vinyl. Not sure how this works royalties-wise for the artists in question, but we assume the store has all the necessary clearances to offer this "curated collection of digitized vinyl and 78s." You can go to this link at the Amoeba website to see if there are any gems you are looking for.

Of course you should also consider browsing to search for things that have slipped into the public domain. Doing a search for "78 RPM" we found this list of gems

A treasure hunt awaits you! 

HD Review: Athens' Finest in 192/24

Hearing R.E.M.'s 1982 classic Reckoning in uber-high resolution from HDtracks is an experience akin to the first time you heard the album back in your college dorm played on a friend's cassette boombox: the music is as powerful today as it was then, with a timeless edge that sounds like it could have been recorded in the 60s or the 00s.

And there is where we find the challenge underlying high-resolution music: is it worth the extra effort one must presently go through to obtain it?

I feel it is - if you are really into a particular band or artist.

My download of the HDtracks files went very smoothly this time 'round, perhaps because I did it overnight when I wasn't at my computer doing other stuff (like writing this piece!)

The HDtracks files sound real nice for the most part - it's still unclear to me what source was used for making these files: the original master stereo mix down or a slave copy made along the way which happened to be stored in the archives at Universal Music (which owns A&M, once the parent company of the IRS subsidiary the band recorded under). 

The tracks are quiet and full sounding, revealing lots of neat sonic nuance. You can hear amplifiers gurgle on "7 Chinese Brothers" and the sharp piano hits in that song punctuate so vividly you can almost feel the thumb tacks in the felt hammers hitting the strings of the (probably) treated keyboard (or is that a glockenspiel hit at the same time as the piano?). Peter Buck's guitars sound very. . . um. . . guitar like - as in natural - and Mike Mills's fluid bass lines are all clearly heard. The breakout hit "So. Central Rain" is really sweet sounding with Buck's propulsive guitar work prefiguring the sound Johnny Marr employed on some early Smiths recordings, while that upright piano ploinks along perkily as if Sonny Bono was cheerily playing it alongside Cher in their old 1970s TV show (the V.A.M.P. skit; check YouTube for clips if you don't know what I'm talking about here). Buck's boxy acoustic guitar on "Rockville" has that "just right" vibe which helps to make the song sound classic - Bill Berry's ride cymbal on the chorus splash and decay beautifully on this one.

These tracks sound noticeably better than my CD of the album (from one of those neat Dutch imports that appeared in the 90s with bonus tracks).

However, when I compared the HDtracks to my mint original LP (still in the original shrink wrap), the LP just sounded better to my ear. By "better," I mean that it sounds a bit more real, with a noticeable increase in mid-range sounds - guitars are rounder, vocals thicker, piano parts fuller, drums bigger. I have to acknowledge that the tube processing of my Bellari preamp may be warming up the sound a bunch vs. the pure digital stream from the MacBook to my Audioengine D1 DAC. There might well be more high end on the HDtracks version, or that may simply be a side effect of the analogue to digital transfer process.

There are so many variables it is honestly difficult to take a hard stand one way or another. So going back to my opening lines, the decision as to whether you should buy this HDtracks version of Reckoning depends on your needs and lifestyle:

  • If you do all your listening in the car, a good remastered CD may serve you just fine.
  • If you don't really care about fidelity issues, well then downloading the music in basic resolution from iTunes may serve you well.
  • If you are over vinyl, presently the HDtracks version may well be the best option for you. 
  • If you like vinyl, you can probably do well at your favorite shop getting a good used copy or one of the newer 180-gram reissues. They should sound just ducky, with a warmer feel than high-res files.

That said, I still have some reservations with high-rez downloads:

  • It's unclear for many releases the source material and how it was created/digitized. Sometimes it isn't clear whether what you're getting comes from an existing SACD or DVD-A source, or is a new transfer from the analog master. It'd be great if this info were available to shoppers.

  • The lack of playback standards - i.e., there's no Red Book for FLAC - make it hard to know what in fact you are hearing

  • For the price, I'd love to see more "added value" materials - liner notes, credits, details on what went into the making of the hi-rez version, etc. As it stands, all you get in some cases is a kind of washed out JPEG of the album art.

I suspect that the user experience will vary from individual to individual, and ultimately they will decide what sound they like best - a pure digital stream or an analog flavor with warmer feel.

Till next time. . .