Friday, 30 August 2013

Japanese Papersleeve Mini LP Box Sets

For anyone who actually reads this blog and actually looks forward to updates my apologies. I have a host of things I would love to gag on about, but my time has been taken up with on-going issues regarding my wife's progressive MS. So for now here is a bit about Japanese papersleeve editions.

The Japanese have been producing papersleeve editions, faithfully reproducing the original vinyl album since the early 90's. I think the first were the first three albums by ELP. When I say faithfully reproduce, I do mean that. They do go to inordinate lengths to produce mini versions of the original 12" LP, from gatefolds, inserts, die-cuts right down to the correct type of card use. How they source these materials is beyond me.

The companies who release these editions make great claims about the audiophile sound of the discs and have gone to great lengths to sell them on the back of fancy mastering and disc materials. Hence why you see terms like, K2, K2 20 bit, K2 24 bit, K2HD, SHM, HQCD and blu-spec. A good marketing ploy, but do they sound any better than the standard CD? Well, the arguments for and against rage long and hard over many music forums. My personal experience has been pretty good on the whole. But this blog is really a quick look at some of my mini LP box sets. A few of these boxes were produced by the Disk Union label as promo boxes for papersleeve issues. They are legitimate and are very sturdy, high quality boxes.

The above photo shows from the top, the Tangerine Dream box which I mentioned in the previous post. Next to that are the two Steve Hillage boxes, which house his back catalogue when it was remastered a few years back. Next to them is the box of the three UK releases. I am not sure if this has been remastered for these editions, but they do sound very good, better than the EG editions and have lyrics too in the insert sheets. Lastly, on the top is a box of the Charisma Brand X albums. Again I am not sure on the remastering of these, but they too sound far superior to the existing Virgin CD's.

The bottom row is the Led Zeppelin box set. Not the SHM release, but the one produced for the western market. It is Japanese, but has no inserts. Though it is claimed to be based on the existing Jimmy Page/George Marino masters this box sounds really good. The best I have heard for the Zeppelin catalogue. Maybe it's down to the discs, but listening to The Ocean for instance, from Houses of the Holy the distortion which is so noticeable on this is almost gone. Next box, is the mammoth VdGG catalogue reissue, which is actually three boxes in one. Beautiful reproduction of all the sleeves on this. Next, is a personal favourite from last year. I do love Kenso, one of Japan's best prog bands. This box set of all their studio and live albums, which I need to talk about in more detail is a wonder to behold. Great book included too. Shame it's all in Japanese!! Then there is the box of Steve Hackett's remastered first four studio albums and lastly, a bit of an anomaly maybe is the box set of This Mortal Coils three studio albums, plus rarities disc. I loved 4AD back in the 80's and label boss Ivo Watts-Russell's studio project were an aesthetic delight.

Thats it then for now. More on Japanese mini LP's to come.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Tangerine Dream - Ricochet (70's Live Album Series)

This is a bit of an odd one. Most live albums from the period were recorded documents of either live concerts or amalgamation of live gigs, with bands playing studio material within a live setting. However, Ricochet was different. Both side long tracks on the original vinyl were pieced together from edits from around 40 to 50 hours of recorded performances. You wouldn't know it as the whole thing flows effortlessly from one section to the next. It's a beautiful album and is one of my favourite all time albums. Although Tangerine Dream were considered an electronic synthesiser band, they actually utilised a whole host of different instruments, like mellotron, piano, electric guitar and percussion. This gave the group a very organic, earthy sound which I think Ricochet best exemplifies. I have very find memories in sitting in school classrooms watching BBC schools television films with Ricochet playing in the background. Mention must be made of the cover artwork. I have always loved Tangerine Dreams album artwork from this period. Ricochet includes a wonderful photo by Monique Froese which adds a reflective, mysterious quality to the album. That together with lettering used for the titles and credits resulted in an album cover which really stood out.

In terms of CD versions, I have the SBM remastered version which Simon Heyworth understook in 1995 as part of Virgins "Definitive Edition" series of reissues. These sounded ok, but the packaging, though better than Virgins original CD issue of 1984, was still lacking. I thought at some point Virgin would undertake another stab at reissuing the catalogue with maybe a deluxe treatment including bonus stuff and decent packaging. But they didn't. Instead in 2011 they released a 3 CD package called The Virgin Years 1974-1978 which included the first six albums released on the Virgin label. This was packaged as shown as a triple jewel case with basic booklet including just credits. The credits state mastering by Andy Pearce. I am not sure what this means. I think he took the definitive edition masters and tweaked them a bit and mastered the bonus cuts which were added to the package, which were basically single edits, rather than do a completely new master from the original tapes. The overall package doesn't look too bad and as a mid price compilation is pretty good, though some will balk at how the album tracks are split over the discs. Virgin followed this up the following year with a 5 CD box set in similar jewel case packaging, which included the seven albums from 1977 to 1983. As a side note there was also a similarly jewel cased box set of Edgar Froese's Virgin solo albums. But these were newly remastered by Denis Blackham.

My preference has been the Japanese papersleeve editions. I bought these separately and managed to snag one of those Disk Union promo boxes to put them in. They smartly do justice to the original artwork, right down to the correct stock of card they used to replicate the original vinyl editions.

It is hard to believe nowadays that Tangerine Dreams albums were Top 40 sellers, but they were. A different time, but Virgin records were a leading edge record company then and had a roster of out there artists, but still seemed to sell well. Ricochet is one of my favourites from Virgins Golden Period.



Tuesday, 13 August 2013

King Crimson - Lizard (How Many Copies Series)

Having established the 70's Live Album Series, now for something else.

The propensity nowadays is for remasters, reissues, deluxe editions and so forth. First we bought the vinyl LP, then the cassette, then the CD. Now we can have the remastered CD, the SACD and even the DVD/ blu-ray. Why do some of us nutters, buy copies of the same album? Is it madness, completeness, the search for the best sounding version or the best packaging. Maybe it's all of those and more. So here we have;

How many copies of King Crimson's Lizard do you really need?

Going by the photo, three. Or to be more accurate there is actually four. Lurking around somewhere there is an Editions EG CD, which may be the 1989 Definitive Edition as mastered by Fripp and Tony Arnold. I think the issue on this is a bit vague. I am not sure how many different CD editions were released in the 80's.

The origin of my vinyl copy is a bit vague too. I remember having a very tatty, scratched copy back in the 70's which someone gave me. But when I searched out Lizard for the above photos was greeted by a pristine copy, with the Editions EG label and manufactured in Canada.

I actually don't remember getting this. I know I bought The Young Persons Guide to King Crimson in Ottawa on one of my visits to family there, so I assume I must have bought it around the same time.

I do love this album. Firstly, the album cover by Gini Barris is spectacular. Intricate, colourful, with images reflecting all the songs on the album. I also love the marbling on the inside of the gatefold and the lettering too. The whole package is one of my long time favourites.

In terms of King Crimsons recorded output, Lizard has always been undermined, even by Robert Fripp. Maybe it's because it's like no other album in their catalogue. It is a strange sounding album. The instrumentation, arrangements and mix are weird. But all that adds to the charm of the album. In fact it was the love for this album that spurred Steven Wilson on to want to mix the King Crimson catalogue in 5.1 surround. After doing so, even Fripp came round to actually seeing the merits in it.

Shown in the top photo are the 30th anniversary CD edition, which was initially released in a sumptuous cardboard sleeve mimicking the original LP design. That was mastered by Simon Heyworth. The other package is the 40th anniversary edition, which is the Steven Wilson mix. Though the digipak packaging pales in comparison to the mini LP version, the booklet is very good, with excellent notes by Sid Smith and the mixes on the CD and DVD are excellent. Wilson has really brought out new details, nuances and clarity and you can see why he was drawn to wanting to work on this. King Crimson are my favourite band and it is heartening to see their catalogue being given such attention. This may be the last time Fripp revisits the catalogue, unless there is a huge jump in technology to warrant him doing so again. We shall see!


Monday, 12 August 2013

Henry Cow - Concerts (70's Live Album Series)

Ah, Henry Cow. The name never ceases to amuse my family. One of my most difficult listening experiences as a teenager back in the 70's. However, I was transfixed by the album cover. Maggie Thomas's wonderfully detailed pen drawing really fascinated me to what the sounds were inside.

This double LP was released on Virgins mid price Caroline label, and so wasn't such a risky investment for a teenager on limited pocket money. I actually bought this, as I did a lot of my vinyl back then at our local newsagents who had a small record department upstairs. Those were the days!

The other thing that struck me about the album cover was the inside picture of the band in a live settting spread over both sides of the double album. The standard floor lamps always amused me. Who needs lasers and dry ice when you have these bad boys! Loved the handwritten credits too.

Musically it was uncompromising stuff. Henry Cow were out on their own, no doubt about it. Dense, complex, more European classical than rock with a foot in the Canterbury sound of the day. The first side of Concerts was a complete BBC John Peel session and for me is one of the best things the band has committed to tape. Played like one continuous piece of music, this medley of material from their studio albums and other pieces is fantastic. A particular highlight is their take on Matching Moles "Gloria Gloom" written by Bill MacCormick. Side 2 has some live stuff with Robert Wyatt, including a cover of a track from his classic Rock Bottom album. But the standout is a live rendition of "Ruins" a Fred Frith composition which originally appeared on the Unrest album. But this live version is incredible. It includes one of the most original guitar solos ever. Owing more to musique concrete, than standard rock guitar, Frith does wonderful things to his guitar. Somewhere within this solo, it even sounds like he is dropping stones on his guitar strings! But it all works within the framework of the piece tremendously well. A really intense, frenetic, ingenious, inspired piece of guitar playing.

Side 3 and 4 of the original LP are the other side of the coin. Pure improvisation. The piece titled "Oslo" is the most uncompromising. To be honest at nearly 30 minutes it is heavy going. Bob Drake who remastered the latest CD issue had the good sense to break the piece into smaller sections making it more digestible.

There are two CD versions of the album. The first was released by the US label, East Side Digital

This set included some bonus tracks which were the bands contribution to the Greasy Truckers compilation.

The remastered version was, as mentioned updated by Bob Drake back in 2006 and had retouched artwork which included a bit of colour. Not sure why. Maybe to sex it up a bit!

To me Concerts stands as a perfect testament to what Henry Cow were about. Always better in a live setting than in the studio. Maybe the album has been somewhat overshadowed now by the epic, 9 CD, DVD box set which Chris Cutler assembled for the bands 40th anniversary. This is an incredible set which includes many hours of live material throughout the bands existence. But that's another story for another day.



Sunday, 4 August 2013

Gentle Giant - Playing The Fool (70's Live Album Series)


Not only is Gentle Giants double live album from 1977 another favourite, I think its is one of the best live albums from the 70's. Gentle Giant were known for their complex, tricky, studied music and their albums were tightly and carefully arranged. Live they were a completely different band. This live album shows a band that is energised, playing the material with much gusto and excitement. They would mix songs up into medleys and open tracks up with some extended improvisation, usually in the percussion department with some exemplary xylophone playing. Add all this to the bands customary swapping of instrumentation leads to an unusually powerful and varied listen.

Again, I remember buying the vinyl of this. I think it was a mid price release, £3.99 for a double LP in a glossy gatefold sleeve. Not only that, but it came with a little 12 page booklet, with black and white photos of the band and an essay by Phil Sutcliffe who wrote for the weekly Sounds and was a big champion of the band. The CD issue I have is the one released by Terrapin Trucking back in the early 90's which was part of their reissue of the bands latter catalogue. I think there has been a 35th anniversary edition released on the bands own label. More recently, it has been remastered as part of EMI's 5 CD box set of their Chrysalis albums, "I Lost My Head" and sounds very good indeed.



King Crimson - The Road to Red

Well, here it is. The latest King Crimson mega disc box set, The Road to Ruin, I mean Red! After last years epic Larks' Tongues In Aspic box, I didn't think they could top it. But they have. 16 concerts, spread over 20 CD's, plus DVD and two blu-rays and a new stereo mix of the Red studio album, this is the ultimate presentation of the 1974 live band. It's like an expanded Great Deceiver, but with added meat.

Whereas the Larks' box, though great, the audio quality of a lot of the material was sub par, with this box, all the material will be of high quality. David Singleton has spent many hours restoring the audio and I know this set is going to be the perfect testament to my favourite period of King Crimson. Roll on 14th October.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Rush - The Studio Albums 1989 to 2007

At last Vapor Trails is remixed and remastered. Released on its own and as part of the above box set in October, Vapor Trails has, ever since its release, always been held up as the best example of extremely loud mastering, in what has become known as the loudness wars. The band has admitted there were problems during recording and mastering, so hopefully those have been rectified somewhat by this new release.

The box set looks like it takes the same form as the Sector box sets. Each album in its own paper wallet with a separate standalone booklet. October is going to be a busy month!