Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from Santa and Rose (part 8)

(from the Yes, there's definitely more than just Rose and Santa in this picture department)

Hi everyone,

Happy Holidays everyone!  Here's our new Santa photo for December 2014:

This was one of the easiest photos we've ever taken.  We actually took two - and they were almost identical.

Afterwards, we had dinner at Piatti's and got ready for the arrival of Santa.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Pietromonaco family!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Creating MP4 files from EAC using Nero AAC Encoder

(from the High Quality Audio department)

Hi everyone,

I use EAC - Exact Audio Copy - for much of my CD Archiving.  It works great - except that it doesn't create MP4 files directly.

However - I just figured out a way to do that using a custom EAC compression string and Nero's free AAC Encoder, which you can download here:

Now what follows is not a step by step guide - but my quick cheat notes for a Windows 7 system.  Follow at your own discretion:

  1. Navigate to your Exact Audio Copy installation directory and create a Nero folder (e.g. C:\Program Files\Exact Audio Copy\Nero)
  2. Open the file, and navigate to the win32 folder.
  3. Extract the three files - neroAacDec.exe, neroAacEnc.exe & neroAacTag.exe - from the win32 folder and place them in your newly created Nero folder.
  4. Start Exact Audio Copy - making sure that you're in advanced mode
  5. In the resultant program window, from the EAC menu, select Compression Options...
  6. You'll want to set the following:
    • Check "Use external program for compression"
    • Set Parameter passing scheme to "User Defined Encoder"
    • Set Use file extension to .mp4
    • Set the Program, including path, used for compression to the location of your cmd.exe (e.g. C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe)
    • Set the Additional command-line options to the following:
      /c ""c:\program files\exact audio copy\nero\neroaacenc.exe" -br %bitrate%000 -if %source% -of %dest% && "C:\program files\exact audio copy\nero\neroaactag.exe" %dest% -meta:artist="%albumartist%" -meta:album="%albumtitle%" -meta:track="%tracknr%" -meta:title="%title%" -meta:genre="%genre%" -meta:totaltracks="%numtracks%" -meta:disc="%cdnumber%" -meta:composer="%composer%" -meta:totaldiscs="%totalcds%" -meta:year="%year%" -add-cover:front:%coverfile%"
    • Set Bit rate to whatever you prefer - (e.g. 128 kBit/s)
    • Check Delete WAV after compression
    • Uncheck Use CRC check
    • Uncheck Add ID3 tag
    • Check Check for external programs return code
    • Select the High quality radio button
  7. Click OK to close the Compression options dialog box.

So the way this works is that it ties two of the Nero programs together - the Encoder and the Tagger - by launching them from the Windows Command shell.  The number of " in the additional command-line options are important - don't omit them or it won't work.  

The good news is that this does fill in the album art and a fair amount of metadata.  I don't like lyrics in my audio files, so I didn't implement them, although the Nero Tagger supports it.  You can adjust the bit rate via the pulldown in the Compression Options... menu - the script interprets the variables correctly - but the MP4s will be Variable Bit Rate (VBR) not Constant Bit Rate (CBR), so they won't match exactly.

Have fun!


Friday, November 21, 2014

Flashback Friday: Mad Love (EP) by Lush

As I've mentioned before - I'm a huge fan of the Shoegazer movement.  One of the first Shoegazer releases I ever heard was the Mad Love EP by Lush. 

Lush was a relatively young band signed to the prestigious 4AD music label.  Their initial mini-album - Scar - was kind of punky - but their follow-up - Mad Love - found them working with the Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie who moved them firmly into Shoegaze territory with a wall of swirling guitars, buried vocals and dense layers of sound.   

You can hear it here: Mad Love (EP) by Lush

After a follow-up album with Guthrie - entitled Spooky - they moved away from their signature sound and became one of the forerunners in the Britpop movement with their final two albums, Split and Lovelife.

Sadly, Lovelife was to be their last album, due to the tragic loss of one of the founding members of the band.

If you haven't heard Lush before, I think Mad Love is a perfect place to start.  If you like what you hear, then dive into the rest of their catalog.

NOTE:  4AD put together an American compilation album of Lush's first three releases entitled Gala.  The Gala collection includes the Sweetness & Light, Mad Love and Scar EPs/Mini-albums, plus bonus tracks.  If you still collect physical media (i.e. CDs) this is the easiest way to get their initial EPs stateside.  I recommend it highly.

Give this a spin and let me know what you think.  Comments are always welcome.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

North Carolina Trip June/July 2014 - Highlights

(from the It's Better In The Carolinas department)

Hi everyone,

We've been on vacation for the last few weeks.  Here's a few snaps.

First up - Flag Day in Old Salem (June 14th, 2014):

Dana sure looks patriotic, doesn't she?

Next Dunkin' Donuts had a special Father's Day "#1 Dad" donut - I ate a few of them.  Here it is:

After spending some time with Dana's mom in Winston-Salem, we headed to Sunset Beach on the coast.  On the way there, we saw some amazing sunsets:

After our arrival at Sunset Beach, I found the perfect spot for my brother just a few miles away in South Carolina:

Donuts, Ice Cream, Fireworks, 
and there's a Waffle House in the background 

Rare shot of Dana entering a Dunkin' Donuts

David, Rena, and the cousins Alan, Amy & Eric flew in to join us.  The next day, we caught a ferry and headed to the Fort Fisher Aquarium, where we were joined by Dana's brother Nick:

One of the few moments Rose stopped running around the ferry

The whole gang at the aquarium - with butterflies!

Rose gets a little crabby

After we visited the aquarium, we headed to the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, to visit one of the finest donut shops in existance:  Britt's Donuts

They only make one type of donut - glazed - but it's amazing.

In an Ideal Deal Copy Blog exclusive, here's the masters at work:

Sunset on the ferry back

Dave, Rena and the cousins got to spend a few days at the beach with us.  Here's the cousins interacting:

(from L to R, Eric, Rose, Amy & Alan)

Amy caught me taking pictures

Dave joins them - how did Eric's shirt change?

Rena catches up with the outside world

Next, we went to Calabash, NC to get some seafood:

Rose runs from the shrimp

Fresh from the boat!

While we were there, on July 3rd, Hurricane Arthur passed close by.  We got a chance to see it:

Luckily, it was long gone by July 4th, and we had a great day grilling and visiting with Dana's friends.  Finally, on July 5th, Dana, Nick, Rose and I got ice cream at the Calabash Creamery.  Good stuff!

Nick and Dana define cool!

Rose enjoys her chocolate

Rare self portrait


Friday, July 4, 2014

Flashback Friday: Raise by Swervedriver

Now - there's two things you should know about my musical tastes.  Number 1 - I love Shoegazing bands.  Shoegazing was a musical genre that started in the 1980's or so - and hit its apex in 1991 with bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Lush, and Catherine Wheel.  Shoegazing was known for its dense wall of complex guitar sounds that required many foot pedal effects, forcing the guitarists to stand fairly still, and concentrate on their feet, hence the term "Shoegazing".  (Wikipedia has a great entry on the genre.)

The second thing in my musical tastes is Swervedriver.  Although nominally a Shoegazing band, they also had a fondness for Detroit punk (Stooges, MC5) that added an aggressiveness to their sound that most of their psychedelic brethren in the music scene lacked.  Sadly - they also had one of the worst runs of luck of any major label band, so most of their work comfortably fits in Flashback Friday.  I'm sure I'll be covering all of their four albums eventually, so let's start with their first release, Raise.

You can hear it here:  Raise by Swervedriver (Xbox Music)

Originally begun as a series of EPs, the band collected them together, recorded some new material, and called the resultant album "Raise".  Even though the songs were recorded at different times, it sounds remarkably uniform and works as a coherent statement from the band.  Continuing with the Detroit fascination, many of the songs are about cars and driving.  Highlights include Son Of Mustang Ford, Rave Down, Feels So Real, and Sandblasted.  Think dense melodic guitar rock, in the vein of Dinosaur Jr. or Neil Young - but with a denser, fuzzier wall of sound - and you won't be far off the mark. 

Although well regarded at the time, their run of bad luck also started right after the album's release; during a North American tour, while the band was waiting to enter Canada, the drummer left the tour bus to "get a sandwich" and never returned.  When he was finally located, he would only speak to one of the band members, and stated he wanted out of the band.  Their bass player quit shortly thereafter, leaving just two members to decide the band's fate.  (To be continued...)

Give this a spin and see what you think.  Comments always welcome.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Flashback Friday: Speak For Yourself by Imogen Heap

Finally - a Flashback Friday Album that isn't quite so obscure.  Chances are you may have heard some songs off this one - especially if you were a fan of the TV show The O.C. 

In the season two finale, Imogen's "Hide and Seek" was used to punctuate the ending scene.  This was later parodied on SNL as one of their Digital Shorts - Dear Sister - which is where I first heard the track.

Following an appearance by Imogen live on David Letterman, I decided to get a couple of her albums.  Her work is very good - but this record is really special.

Written, produced, arranged, and funded by Imogen herself, it was the first record where she really explored the sonic textures and songwriting that would become her hallmark. 

You can hear it here:  Speak For Yourself by Imogen Heap (Xbox Music)

Musically the album ranges from the spare vocalizer sonics of "Hide And Seek", to the full-on guitar rock of "Daylight Robbery".  In-between, Imogen detours into quiet strength with the song "Have You Got It In You?", gets Jeff Beck to contribute a solo to the upbeat "Goodnight and Go", and finishes with the jaw-droppingly stunning "The Moment I Said It".

Her other albums, like Ellipse, her latest solo release; or Details, recorded with Guy Sigsworth under the moniker Frou Frou; are also worthy of investigation.  But Speak For Yourself is a great place to start.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think below.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Flashback Friday: Big Plans For Everybody by Let's Active

In 1983, in my senior year in high school, my super hip musical friend started raving about an album he had purchased by a band from Athens, Georgia.  We looked at the cover and tried to figure it out - but it was impenetrable, covered in kudzu - much like the music inside.  The vocalist was mixed deep into the backing track, at the same volume as the rest of the instruments - plus he mumbled with no lyric sheets.  We listened to the record over and over again - marveling at the chiming guitars, the atypical for the 80's thin drum sounds (remember "In The Air Tonight"?)  and the overall unique production of the record.  The band was R.E.M., and the album was Murmur.

We discovered that there were many more bands in the Athens, Georgia area and the surrounding college towns that we liked.  In fact, they had given a name to this musical movement:  "The New South".  New South bands included Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, The B-52s, Oh-OK, The dBs, and Fetchin Bones.   Many of these artists recorded at a converted car garage in Winston-Salem, NC - Drive-In Studios - and were engineered and produced by the garage's owner, Mitch Easter.

Mitch was also the leader of a band called Let's Active.   A power-pop trio, their first EP Afoot, and their first LP Cypress are considered landmarks in the New South genre (and are sadly out of print).  However, lack of national success and interpersonal squabbles derailed them, and they disbanded, leaving Mitch the solo member.  Working mostly by himself, with the help of a few close friends, he recorded Big Plans For Everybody. 

You can hear it here:  Big Plans For Everybody by Let's Active (Xbox Music)

This is an amazing album - especially if you're into guitar sounds.  The lyrics are a little twisted - and nobody quite knows what all of them are, since Mitch hated the whole "Stevie Nicks" vibe of printing lyrics in records.  I think there's a lot in there about the band breakup and his own difficulties in handling the situation. 

NOTE:  This album was sequenced for vinyl - there's a natural break that occurs between track 6 & 7.  In addition, this version contains two worthy bonus tracks - 12 & 13. 

Mitch would go on to make one more Let's Active album - Every Dog Has His Day - before giving up and moving on to concentrate on album production.  His later work with the California band Game Theory is considered to be some of the finest in rock - but that's a story for another time. 

So calibrate your music dials to "power pop with a slight jangle" and give this a listen.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  Also if you want to find out more about other bands from that time period, the documentary Athens GA: Inside/Out covers the whole scene pretty well.