Vancouver’s Teen Daze has grown a lot since he first his the Internets in mid-2010. His songwriting has matured, his rhythms are more subtly laid-back, and his grooves are catchier. If you need proof, just checking out the first pair of tracks he’s released from his upcoming The Inner Mansions (scheduled for a November 6, 2012 release). I think you’ll like what you hear. I did.
Sean Hayes isn’t a new face in the music industry. His latest release, Before We Turn To Dust, will be his sixth full length. Indeed, Hayes has been a beloved staple of the local music scene in San Francisco for many years now. He’s worked with a who’s who of other local musicians and he’s been a highlight for many festival goers at two separate Outside Lands Festivals including the most recent one. And despite having arguably reached veteran status as a musician, it also feels as it Hayes is just getting started. Indeed, Before We Turn To Dust is almost certain to bring Hayes a host of new fans.
Hayes blends smooth r&b melodies with shuffling folk instrumentation supporting his woodsy, vibrato-accented vocals. As you’d imagine from that combination, there is a little sexiness to the grooves, yet there is nothing prurient about Hayes’ lyrics. For example, on opening track “Before We Turn To Dust” Hayes crows: “You may spend all of your money before you turn to dust / you’ll never spend all your love” and then “My little boy’s smilin’ / soon he’ll be sitting up / holding his own weight / grabbin’ for ya.”
Indeed, much of Before We Turn To Dust hinges on sentiments of mortality, fatherhood, and love. If that all sounds a little, well, boring… it isn’t. Hayes clearly writes personal lyrics inspired from his own life and experiences, and yet they are universal enough to offer broad appeal. For example, the album’s second track “Miss Her When I’m Gone” is an ode to the loneliness and struggle of a career spent on the road, away from the people you love, working hard to support those same loved ones. Even if you aren’t a touring musician, if you’re a working stiff you probably relate to the sense of working hard, sometimes struggling, to support the people you love.
Yet, it should be noted that Before We Turn To Dust isn’t all death, fatherhood, and work. The album’s third track “Bam Bam” for example features a loose, piano-led groove to accompany Hayes’ croon: “Damn, the way you walk that thing / all locked in a pocket make a grown man sing.” But, unlike a lot of contemporary r&b, Hayes can be sexy without being lacivious: “I want to do you… right. I want to be with you.”
Before We Turn To Dust makes a great soundtrack for the recipe Kasey is featuring in the Kitchen today: Soba Bowls with Tea-Poached Salmon. The recipe is exotic, yet surprisingly straight forward. It’s flavorful and unique. And so smooth and crowd pleasing.
Dead cats being mummified. Dog’s saving babies from pools. Bob’s Donuts in San Francisco. Racing stripe haircuts. Vegetable hating teenagers. These are the things that Aesop Rock had on his mind when he recorded his latest triumphantly dense LP of occasionally near-indecipherable strange-rap mind-melters. Titled Skelethon, the record is another win for the San Francisco-by-way-of-New York emcee.
It’s immediately clear that Rock’s remains at the pinnacle of his game. As usual, his lyrics again alternate between cryptic, impressionistic, and abstract to narrative, colorful, and entertaining (oh, and quite often very funny). But what struck me on my first listen wasn’t just that Rock was as “on” as usual, but rather just how instrumentally organic Skelethon sounds compared to his prior albums. More than ever before Rock’s tunes blend samples, scratching (via long-time collaborator DJ Big Wiz) and live instrumentation. Rock’s wife Allyson Baker (of Dirty Ghosts) returns providing either bass or guitar on at least five of the album’s cuts. Hanni El Khatib provides guitar on three tracks and El Khatib’s long-time ally Nicky Fleming-Yaryan provides crisp percussion on four jams. Kimya Dawson and Rob Sonic provide additional vocals on several tracks. Finally, Grimace Federation, a Philadelphia-based band known for making an ungodly messy groove out of samples upon samples swirled into a multi-percussionist rhythm, provide additional instrumentation on a pair of cuts.
The result is that the beats and accompanying instrumentation sound fuller, more lush, and livelier than they’ve ever before. It proves to be an ideal stage for Rock to showcase his lyricism and songwriting. It’s entirely unsurprising considering the fact that Rock’s wife provides the track’s grungy guitar riff, but the track “ZZZ Top” instrumentally sounds like Rock rapping over a Dirty Ghosts’ album highlight. Baker does her work atop clattering, break-beat percussion as Rock lyrically explores the minds of three individuals as they, in order, carve a word into a desk, write on a pair of chucks with a magic marker, and scrawl a band name onto the wall in a bathroom stall.
The album’s first single “Zero Dark Thirty” is the album’s most immediately catchy groove and also the track most able to bridge the gap between Rock’s latest and None Shall Pass. It’s one of the least lyrically straight-forward jams on the album as well. But, despite the puzzle-like nature of the lyrics, Rock manages to evoke the vision of an unpopular kid rising up through the rap scene to become the last man standing as he spits about a “minotaur-fugly stepchild” with “zero friends” that “nevermind straw to gold [can] spin hearts on sleeves into heads on poles.” In the end, it’s “down from a huntable surplus to one.”
Meanwhile, on “Ruby ’81” Aesop paints the tale of two year-old baby Ruby who escapes from the house when her parents aren’t looking and falls into their pool. Only the family’s beagle notices what’s happening and is able to save the small child. Later in the album, things don’t end nearly as merrily for Aesop’s feline friend on “Homemade Mummy” which (as the title implies) provides instructions for making your own D.I.Y. mummified kitten.
A personal favorite, is the hilarious “Grace” in which Rock narrates the story of a stand-off between himself and his father when he refused to eat his vegetables. A few key lyrics for me: “Chris and Graham hate ’em too but advocate a braver chew invented for the code red, cola chaser, nose held, gulp moments. Later two have been released, leaving me the legroom and the legume police” and later “a single portion canned, frozen or fresh, defies the glory of the Poultry or fish.”
Kasey’s featuring a recipe for Chanterelle Tacos today in the Kitchen. For me, chanterelles are an unusual and pretty non-traditional ingredient for tacos (or in any other traditional street food). But although the main ingredient is relatively unorthodox in this context, it’s a beautifully flavorful recipe. Similarly, rap is often regarded as street music, and within the context of the genre, Aesop Rock is wildly untraditional both lyrically and instrumentally. Considering those similarities, (and despite Aesop’s childhood aversion to vegetables) I think today’s recipe makes a great musical pairing for Skelethon.
Osaka, Japan’s Cloudy Busey (the solo project of Bob Willey from the band Ice Cream Shout) was recently recommended to me by Pete from Yr Face Is An Eames Rocker. I won’t lie, I’d never heard of Ice Cream Shout, but I’m pretty much in love with this solo project. All he’d need to make me an even bigger fan is a few more tracks (he’s only got the two to his name). The track “Broken By Inertia” is a delicately warped electro-groove featuring Willey’s soothing croon and bright, spaceship synths and a simple, steady rhythm. His previous single, “Pound Your Town To Hell,” was released last year and features a more orchestral-like melody to balance a shimmering, crystalline ambiance.
So, you previously read Turntable Kitchen’s Top Ten Reasons to Buy a Turntable, and are now thoroughly convinced that you need a record player, but are looking for a place to start. Buying a turntable can be a daunting experience. After all, there is a lot to consider. For example, do you want belt-driven or direct-drive? Also, you need to decide if you want a turntable with or without a built-in preamp. Do you want to start an audiophile quality setup that can be upgraded over time, or do you just want something simple that will allow you to play records? Ultimately, after considering those factors, the answer as to which turntable you’ll want will primarily depend on two factors: your budget and what your goal for your system is (Note: this article presumes you aren’t seeking a DJ-style deck which are designed with different considerations than a turntable intended as a hi-fi system).
I’ve broken my recommendations down into a few different categories, starting with a recommendation for the beginner record collector, moving to recommendations for archivists (meaning you want a way to transfer vinyl to MP3), followed by my recommendation for starting an audiophile quality stereo system, and ending with my tips for selecting your own turntable if the ones I recommend don’t appeal to you.
* Built-in Preamp
* RCA outputs
* Available from Amazon.
If you are on a budget, but want a good, basic turntable that will let you play those pretty 7” records you receive in your Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box each month, I recommend the AT-LP60-Automatic Turntable. It is a solid starter turntable. It is belt-driven and includes a built-in preamp and line-level RCA outputs, which means it is good to go straight out of the box and won’t require you to purchase any other equipment. You can connect this turntable to a home stereo system. Compared to the other turntables in this range, you’ll get very good sound reproduction when listening to your record collection. You can upgrade many of the components, such as the stylus, to improve the overall performance of the player.
I Want a USB Turntable To Convert LPs into MP3s
Ion iPTUSB Turntable * see comments
* USB output
* Built-in speaker
* Available from Amazon (discontinued).
* Audiophile Quality
* USB output
* Available from Amazon.
Personally, I’m not crazy about USB to PC turntables for converting vinyl records into MP3 format. Most people I know who buy them don’t use them for that purpose very often (if ever) and instead just use them to play records. And, of course, the feature will cost you – either in terms of the overall quality of your turntable or in price. Besides, many contemporary records include digital downloads with purchase of the vinyl anyways. However, if you have a collection of old, rare records, this might be the easiest way to transfer the music at listenable quality.
If you are seeking a turntable for this purpose, the next question you need to ask is whether you are simply seeking a basic, starter turntable to transfer your music or looking for a high-end audiophile piece of equipment to also make your music sound glorious. I recommend three turntables for this section, based on the criteria you’re looking to fulfill. The Ion is the cheapest of the three and will do a good job of both playing your records and transferring them digitally (however, see the comments section: one reader noted that there are speed issues and it may not be possible to bypass the built in preamp which isn’t very good quality). The Music Hall USB-1 will do a better job at playing your records, and the Pro-Ject Essential USB Turntable is the somewhat pricier audiophile choice that will make your music sounds mind-blowing.
I Want an Audiophile System To Make My Records Sound Amazing
Pro-ject Debut Carbon Turntable
* $369-399 (depending on color)
* Very upgradeable
* Audiophile Quality
* Available at Amazon.
If you’re really into your music and want a turntable that can change the way you hear your favorite albums, then you are going to want to get an audiophile quality deck. Keep in mind, they aren’t cheap, but they’re worth the price if you’re serious about building out your music collection. Even an entry-level audiophile quality turntable is going to cost you at least $350 for the turntable itself, and it won’t have a built-in preamp, so you’ll need to buy that, too. Odds are, you are going to need a phono-in unless your integrated amp or amplifier has one built-in. And, of course, you’ll eventually need to buy good speakers because even a great turntable will sound crappy out of bad speakers. If you’re prepared and excited to start building out your record-listening collection, allow me to make some recommendations.
The three most commonly recommended entry-level audiophile turntables are the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Rega RP1, and the Music Hall MMF 2.2. If possible, your best bet is to go to an audio-equipment store and give each a listen before deciding on which one you want. Each is a fantastic turntable that will breathe new life into your record collection.
When selecting mine, I went out to local audio-equipment stores and gave each of them a test drive using the same records, integrated preamp, cables and speakers for each test run. When all was said and done, I left with a slight, but certain, preference for the sound from the Debut III (now upgraded and called the Debut Carbon). It was warm, clean and very alive. Not only that, but for me, it was the sexier looking turntable of the three. I bought it in red, but it is also available in several other colors including silver, black, white, blue, green and yellow. The RP1 was a close second, but it was a definite second place and also more expensive. Thus, I recommend the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (the update to the Debut III).
Personally, I started my system with a Cambridge Audio azur 340A integrated pre-amp, a Cambridge Audio phono-in, and a pair of PSB speakers. It sounds great to my ears. I later updated my Debut with an acrylic platter and the Pro-Ject Speed Box (which increases bass performance and improves and automates speed control). Next I plan to purchase a new cartridge and better speakers.
Tips For Selecting Your Own Turntable
Not interested in any of the ones I recommended above? Maybe you just want to hit eBay to buy a vintage turntable. No worries, here are some tips to help you select your own.
Belt-drive vs. Direct-drive
I recommend belt-drive turntables. If you aren’t a DJ, the advantages of direct-drive turntables are insignificant, but the disadvantages are numerous – especially if you aren’t ready to dive into the high-end market (and even then, I generally recommend belt-driven turntables). This is because direct-drive turntables can transmit noise from the motor and bearing to the stylus, which means the sound produced isn’t as clean as it could be. Many direct-drive turntables also can have issues related to speed that cause pitch variations in playback (a.k.a. wow and flutter). Conversely, the belt on a belt-driven turntable absorbs vibrations that may otherwise be picked up by the stylus.
First, let me say that I have no intention of getting deep into a discussion of preamps, integrated preamps, and amplifiers. There is a lot to cover on the topic, and I want to keep this about selecting a turntable. However, when selecting a turntable, you’ll need to decide whether you want to purchase a turntable with a built in preamp or not.
I’m going to try to keep this as straightforward as possible, which means I’m glossing over a lot of stuff here. With that said, here is the basic gist of it: without a preamp, the output from your turntable won’t be loud enough to be picked up through normal stereo equipment/speakers. Personally, I don’t like turntables with built-in amplifiers and I’d rather buy my own. With a built-in preamp you are stuck with the quality of the preamp built-in to the turntable, which probably isn’t very good. Audiophile equipment generally won’t include that option anyway. However, buying a turntable with a built-in preamp saves you the cost of having to buy a separate preamp. Thus, the bottom line is this: if you are on a tight budget, go with a turntable with a built-in preamp; if you are going middle of the road on a system you can improve over time, I’d recommend buying a separate integrated amp (combines the preamp and amplifier)(hint: you may find cheap “vintage” equipment on eBay to get you started); and if you are looking to build the perfect system you’ll probably want to go with a separate preamp, amplifier, turntable, and phono-in. As I mentioned above, I started my system with a Cambridge Audio Azur 340A integrated pre-amp, a Cambridge Audio phono-in, and a pair of PSB speakers.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for preamps, speakers, phono stages, and/or updated turntable recommendations, check out our brand new guide to building a turntable stereo system: https://www.turntablekitchen.com/2014/10/turntable-kitchens-top-6-recommended-turntable-systems/