Sunday, April 5, 2015

Neil Young's Pono Music Player Gives Listeners A More Visceral Music Listening Experience!

I've been an audio engineer, producer and artist for over 20 years. I have 15 Billboard top 40s to my credit among many other accolades for my work. For those that are claiming that music originally recorded to tape and then mastered to high definition digital (88.2 KHZ / 24bit or higher), or music recorded and mastered in high definition digital is virtually imperceivable from the sound of a 320 kbps MP3 or standard CD I invite you to watch the Google talk "Lost in Translation" by Andrew Scheps. You can find it here. https:­/­/­/SXbH­-yzGNfg

I have done several blind tests (casual not scientific) with people ranging in age from 18 to late 40s using 256 kbps MP4s from the iTunes store played on an iPhone 5 or 6 vs. the high definition equivalent (88.2 KHZ / 24 bit or higher) played through a Pono Player on a standard car system in a Toyota Prius, which is the type of environment most people listen to music in these days when not using ear buds. In every single case the listener knew immediately which version they were listening to and in fact the differences the listener experienced were not subtle but extreme. I have no ax to grind and I don't work for Pono this is just an account of my experiences.

In my experience high definition audio that is recorded and mastered properly does sound better than a compressed audio file and usually sounds better than a standard CD depending on the genre of music (modern R & B and Hip Hop probably enjoy the least benefits due to the amount of low bit rate samples used in the production of the music). There are several reasons why this is true that have nothing to do with whether you can hear above 20 KHZ (which I can't). One reason has to do with how the audio is filtered at the high and low spectrum of the audio file which Andrew Scheps explains much more eloquently than I can, another reason is simply how PCM encoding works. Think of PCM encoded digital audio as a series of snapshots, the higher the resolution the more "snapshots" of the audio get sampled over time during the digital conversion process so the audio is less stepped and therefore carries more of the original information from the source. This makes the audio within the frequencies that most of us can hear sound richer and smoother among other things. In layman terms my experience has been that the lows sound tighter and more defined, the highs sound crisper, reverb tails have a better decay and ambience has more depth. Over all the sound is just richer and it seems to create more of a total body experience when played on even an average external playback system. The difference I've found is very perceivable even by the casual listener in most cases. In other words you don't have to be an audiophile or music professional to enjoy the effect of having higher resolution files played on a high end audio player.

However I will agree that the differences are more obvious when listening to albums that contain songs with more dynamics than those that have been brick wall mastered but the difference is apparent regardless. Also I have to point out that admittedly part of the difference in audio playback quality between a Pono and an iPhone is that a Pono Player is designed to be a high end audio playback device which uses higher end components and is much more well thought out from an engineering perspective, so of course it's going to sound infinitely better than a phone. But that's the point of owning a high end audio playback device like a Pono so that all your audio files regardless of resolution and file type sound better. This is why I am so dumbfounded by the very ignorant, negative comments some reviewers have made about Pono. Especially given that any device that gets people listening to better sounding audio whether it be an MP3 or a Wav file at 192 KHZ / 24 bit only helps increase peoples love of music right? And the cost? Well $399 for a high end audio player that actually makes every file type sound infinitely better and comes with 128 GB of storage with a 64 GB removable media card is a bargain. Especially when you take into consideration that an iPod Touch with 64 GB of memory is $299, doesn't play back high definition audio and doesn't have nearly the quality of components or engineering that a Pono player has. I guess the question is do you want your audio files regardless of resolution to sound a lot better or do you want a player that sounds mediocre but also has a mediocre camera and plays games?

So before you read into some of the recent negative press on Pono or high definition audio check out Andrew Scheps Google talk and then do some listening tests of your own and see for yourself. I personally think high end audio players like Pono combined with high definition audio could bring back the excitement and value to music that seems to have gotten "lost in translation" over the past decade. There is no reasons why high definition audio and better audio playback devices shouldn't become part of our mainstream culture in the same way that HD video has. Audio is the only area in consumer technology that has actually gotten worse instead of better. I think it's time for music playback to catch up with the rest of the consumer media world.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Shoegaze / Indie Pop - The Swerve debut release "Wonder" single

We here at Musica Phenomena were lucky enough to get advanced copies of soon-to-be-released material by The Swerve and have been hot on their tip from the get-go. Mikael Johnston, lead songwriter and producer of The Swerve, is a name we've been familiar with from his success that started with 90's San Francisco house music act, Mephisto Odyseey, and more recently, as one half of the dance production duo, Dresden & Johnston. Over the years and during these accomplishments I have always encouraged him to go back to his roots and explore the shoegaze, electronica and indie pop side to his personality and feel that The Swerve is Mikael in his true element.

Johnston teamed up with lead vocalist, Jana Hanavan, and newcomer producer, Dave Watson, to create a perfect meld of their musical backgrounds into an indie pop shoegaze bliss. Utilizing organic instruments as much as electronics, The Swerve are connected to the same music realm as other favorites of ours, I Break Horses, Stripmall Architecture (and their previous band, Halou), School Of Seven Bells, Class Actress, Au Revoir Simone, Ladytron's newest outing, and even Phantogram. For those that have been avidly following our podcasts and recent posts, you will see that The Swerve have been featured in our David Bowie "Low Broken Radio" podcast that I was fortunate enough to vocal coach Jana Hanavan on for their strikingly different rendition of "What In The World", were part of the Dark Side Of Pop compilation, and even more recently on my Ghosts Of The Virgin Suicides "Happy Haunting Ground" podcast with an exclusive early version of "Wonder" that I just love. Now, with their first official release, "Wonder" proves that they are headed for the spotlight and I believe they will find great success once they have made their presence known. "Wonder" features remixes by Rubicon 7 and Some Ember (Dylan Travis' new project - frontman of Man Miracle) and for a limited time you can download the single for free below, courtesy of Bandcamp.

- Michael Fierce

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NEW! Ghosts Of The Virgin Suicides - Podcast Part 2 "Happy Haunting Ground"

The Lisbon girls were 13, Cecilia, 14, Lux, 15, Bonnie, 16, Mary, and 17, Therese. This is the second installment of our ongoing Ghosts Of The Virgin Suicides series of podcasts. "Happy Haunting Ground" tells a different story. All songs here have a central focus on the original main theme song from the movie, "Playground Love" by Air with vocals by Gordon Tracks, better known as Thomas Mars, lead singer of Phoenix. Unlike our first in the series, this isn't so much a ghostly reminder of the original, but more a story of "...what the girls listened to", while still retaining the "Playground Love" theme just below its' surface. The songs, like the girls, are different in attitude and style, hopefully reflecting their different personalities. The ghosts of the Lisbon girls make their presence known once again for another haunting collection of songs. We hope you will like this! Download the entire podcast featuring Go-yo, Broken Bells, Sacred Animals, Joy Zipper, The Swerve and several other bands and hard-to-find tracks below.

- Michael Fierce

Download Happy Haunting Ground Podcast From iTunes

Download Happy Haunting Ground Directly From Our Server

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Electronic / Shoegaze / Chillwave Gem - PALLERS "The Sea Of Memories" (2011)

Pallers are Henrik MĂ„rtensson and Johan AngergĂ„rd from Sweden, on Labrador. Both have worked together under Johan's previous moniker, The Legends. However, while their previous work was notable and had memorable moments, when they officially became a full-fledged band as Pallers, their new band added elements and a production sound that enhanced everything they do to a higher level. This is their debut album. For me, from beginning to end, this is a mesmerizing, emotionally complex, original, instant classic.  Well, I should say, with the exception of #9, "Wicked", every song is incredible. "Wicked", isn't a bad song, just abruptly too upbeat, and being the one song sung by a girl, feels out of place. The album is a mixture of warm and cold. Like snow-covered fields on a sunny day. Like hot blood running through you as you make your way under a cold, grey sky. Like a warm night with an unexpected eclipse of the moon breaking through the clouds above. Together, Johan's voice and heart-breaking lyrics, are a thing of beauty. The Pallers music is sometimes subtle and sometimes epic but not with any of the usual forced epicness many bands seem to be at fault for. It has elements of synthpop, chillwave, shoegaze, electro pop and electronica but is seamless in it's weave of perfection. Standout tracks are "Come Rain, Come Sunshine", "Years Go, Days Pass", "The Kiss", "Wired" and my favorite, the closing song, "Nights". If you haven't heard this yet you are really missing out. This is our first recommendation in a wave of albums, and EP's I will be reviewing in our new feature, spotlighting "gems" and "diamonds in the rough" you need to know about and might have missed out on dating from 1997 to the present. Pallers, "Sea Of Memories" is my highest recommendation of 2011!!!

- Michael Fierce

Friday, March 23, 2012

4 Free Live EPs by Dead Can Dance

We at Musica Phenomena have been long time Dead Can Dance (DCD) fans, after all they are one of the original 4AD bands and considered part of a group of artists recognized as being around during the "classic era" of 4AD. Some argue about when that era actually ended but most agree sometime between 1990-95 depending on who you talk to. If you don't know what 4AD is I encourage you to read about their rich history here 4AD a brief history on Wikipedia. I could go into more detail about 4AD but why when I'm here to talk about DCD who are Brenden Perry and Lisa Gerrard.

Even those who don't know DCD have probably heard Lisa's haunting vocals in such film soundtracks as Gladiator, or perhaps even seen her act in the lesser known 1989 Spanish film "El Nino de la Luna" in which she appears completely nude and looking extremely hot might I add! Brendan we love you too but thanks for not appearing nude in any films during your career.

Their reunion which was originally announced last year on Brenden Perry's website has not been updated much since the announcement but what has changed is the addition of a list of confirmed international shows and their perspective ticket sale dates on their official website Dead Can Dance Official Website. As for the new album... well, we've read that it will be released sometime between mid and late 2012, and as far as we know there has been no title yet given to this forthcoming release. However if any of you out there have any more information as to what is going on with the duo's reunion, tour or upcoming album please leave a post in the comments on our blog, or drop us a note directly if you're shy and we'll post it for you. ;)

- M. Pereira

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

French ambient electronica artist Xelomen releases "My Nebula" EP

Xelomen is an ambient, electronica, chillwave artist from Marmande, France. Influenced by artists such as Arovane, Brian Eno, and Craig Armstrong, Xelomen finds inspiration for creating music from her own life experiences. Her music ebbs and flows with waves of passion and melancholy. This is definitely an artist to watch. You can listen to her latest EP "My Nebula" below.

- M. Pereira

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Fierce Spotlight" Musica Phenomena has a conversation with Casa del Mirto.

Recently Musica Phenomena managed to catch up with one of Italy's premier indie electronic acts Casa del Mirto. Coming off of their recent double album release titled "The Nature" and their heralded remix of Class Actress' song "Weekend" Casa del Mirto took some time from their busy tour schedule to speak with us and this is what they had to say.

Musica Phenomena: You're from Italy, tell us a little about yourself and how the name Case del Mirto came to be?

Casa del Mirto: "Casa del Mirto" means "House of Myrtle". The myrtle (Mirto) is a plant that is used to make an excellent liquor. We live in northern Italy, and this liquor is a sort of "rarity", but in our town there was once a bar that served it (for breakfast) to the workers of a garage called "Casa del Freno" (it means "House of Brake). We have just joined the two things (House of Brake + Myrtle = House of Myrtle/Casa del Mirto), just for fun!

Musica Phenomena: I have heard and seen releases by you defined in different genres; glo-fi, chillwave, shoegaze - we're you influenced by any oldschool shoegaze bands like The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Ride, growing up?

Casa del Mirto: For sure, bands like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins have played an important role for our taste in music. These plays helped us to grow up in the teenage years, together with eletronic bands like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode 'till the house music of the 90's. However is very difficult to say what has influenced us more, because we're used to listen and assimilate a lot of music. We are continuously searching for something that hits us and leaves us breathless.

Musica Phenomena: You're doing remixes as well as your own original material. Your Class Actress remix is wonderful and featured here on our blog. I know you recently finished a remix for The Swerve. How was that experience?

Casa del Mirto: We consider remixes as if they were our songs and we love to remodel tracks of other bands according to our personal style. We got in touch with Class Actress, after listening to them on a music blog. It was a good collaboration and the remix received a lot of good reviews, we're proud of it!

Yes, we just finished a remix for The Swerve, and we enjoyed the collaboration. They asked us for a remix of a song, so we listened to their two EPs and we literally fell in love with "Taken Apart". We worked hard and we like the result… hope you're gonna hear it soon! Maybe we'll stay in touch with them for a collaboration in the future, you'll never know!

Musica Phenomena: I've been a big fan of yours since the beginning, over a year now. "The Haste", from what I understand, is the song that put you guys on the map and is excellent. However, my favorite track is "Jacket And Shoes", a very catchy tune I hope more fans come to know - can you tell me what that song is about?

Casa del Mirto: The Haste and Jacket and Shoes have, more or less, the same theme: they both speak about the loss of control of your own life. J & S tells the story of a boy who has lost hope, a boy that has done everything in life and did not ever achieved anything. The situation degenerates to such an extent that eventually he wears his shoes and his jacket and just leave. It's actually a metaphor, the boy takes his own life. We liked the idea of using lyrics like these on a catchy and thoughtless music!

Musica Phenomena: Planning on any tours to America? Love to have you here in SF (San Francisco).

Casa del Mirto: We'd like to do it!! At the moment we're touring Italy so we are really busy 'till the end of the summer, nevertheless we're working in order to organize something in Europe, U.S. and SouthAmerica for the autumn and the next year, so we'll keep you informed or just check out our label website or our blog: We're even on Facebook!

Musica Phenomena: Chillwave is a genre I see on the rise and growing in diversity - bands like Washed Out, Niva, Persona La Ave, Chrome Sparks, Sleep 8 Over, Memory Tapes, Computer Magic, and even I Break Horses, are being defined as such - Are you a fan of any of them?

Casa del Mirto: We love the "I Break Horses" LP and along with this even some of the stuff of the names mentioned above. However, often, we find ourselves listening to stuff that has not so much to do with Chillwave in strictly speaking, stuff that has a "special mood" able to affect us and excite us. We say that we are omnivores listeners.

Musica Phenomena: And since our blog is, first and foremost, about promoting artists of Indie and Electronic music and all of it's sub-genres, are there any newer artists and / or albums you can recommend to our listeners?

Casa del Mirto: The last LP of Xiu Xiu, TRST of Trust, Oneohtrix Point Never, Soft Metals, Soap and Skin, Tearjerker and "Waves of past relation" of Atoi.

Musica Phenomena: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, but, before you go, can you tell us of any upcoming releases or events we can expect from you in the near future? And where can one go to purchase your music and find out more about you? Thanks again for being a part of our blog, Musica Phenomena, for our new feature, "Fierce Spotlight" -- Michael Fierce

Casa del Mirto: Thank you for the questions, we're happy to be hear with you! We don't have any release scheduled for the near future, our last double LP "The Nature" was released in november 2011, so we'll be touring for a while. According to our commitments we'd like to collaborate with other bands or to do some remixes. But, you never know, maybe we can take the time to release some single soon, inspiration can't be scheduled!

You can purchase our music here:
Vinyl and tapes: (there's even something in free download)

Digital: and on all the digital stores.