Friday, January 30, 2009

Listening Session: Feist, The Reminder

Feist’s The Reminder is on my list of the ten best albums of the new millennium. The songs are brilliantly written and sung; they hold together to form a coherent album that is greater than the sum of its parts. This should be apparent to the most casual listener. (The “album” has become a lost art form in this era of downloadable singles. Its decline probably goes back to the advent of CDs, when artists had to think of an album in terms of a single long-play format with the capacity for 75-minutes of music instead of two 20-minute sides. The latter just seems like a more manageable format for structuring an album. But that’s a topic for another post.)

What I want to discuss is how the production of The Reminder contributes to the album’s greatness. There’s usually very little discussion regarding the production value of an album by music reviewers or fans, especially compared to, say, movies. The Reminder is one album in which each song is produced differently for effect and artistic purpose. The album starts with “So Sorry”, which sounds like a simple, live analog recording (there’s even tape hiss in the background). When Feist starts singing, the realism is startling. The entire song has a sense of immediacy that makes the rest of the album sound like artifice. It’s as if “So Sorry” is the present point and the songs that follow are a constructed past or background to the present moment. This is readily apparent in “The Park”, a song that has a severely boxed-in sound, as if the singer’s voice is coming from a transistor radio or metaphorically trapped in the past. The production perfectly matches the song’s essence. The following song, “The Water”, adds heavy reverb to Feist’s voice that heightens the sense of a person lost in a vast space. In “Sea Lion Woman”, Feist’s voice is processed in a way that suggests the shamanistic tone of the song. “Intuition” has the same boxed-in sound as “The Park” with a little extra reverb in her voice. It’s this common sound that made me realize that “Intuition” is the sister song to “The Park”, with a common subject but a different perspective. On the vinyl LP, these two songs are also the fourth track on the respective side. As these examples illustrate, The Reminder is a rich, complex album that merits close listening. My only complaint is that Feist has such a great voice that it’s a shame that on all but the first song, there’s some produced effect to her voice.

Record used for the listening session is the Dutch pressing on white vinyl. I also have the US pressing of the album, but have not compared it to the Dutch pressing yet.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Record Collecting Manifesto: Prologue

Counter-clockwise from left: LP cover, CD cover, mp3 cover

“All that is solid melts into air” is the Karl Marx quote that’s used as a title to Marshall Berman’s book on modernism. To put it simply, Berman defines modernism as the struggle to make ourselves at home in a constantly changing world. He adds, “To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction…. It is to be both revolutionary and conservative… longing to create and to hold on to something real even as everything melts.”

In the narrow scope of recorded music, the digital format is the perfect expression of modernity as it allows for constant change. First, there was the compact disc, then the super-audio compact disc and DVD-Audio, and now mp3, FLAC, and countless other digital music formats. Blu-Ray is on the horizon for recorded music. Trying to keep up with these format changes feels like a nihilistic exercise in consumerism. You will never be happy staying with a single digital format, because it will inevitably be replaced by a “better” format. The advertising pitch for compact discs when they were introduced--“perfect sound forever”—that convinced so many people to ditch their record collections turned out to be a lie. Not only do CDs sound worse than their vinyl equivalents, they are now heading toward obsolescence.

Collecting and listening to vinyl records is an attempt “to hold on to something real”. Some may consider it a nostalgic and conservative reaction to changes in music formats. To me, it’s about jumping off the runaway capital-driven freight train and trying to create a comfortable and enjoyable place, off the tracks, that feels like home.

Monday, January 26, 2009

System Update: New Amplifiers

The main point of listening to records is the belief that vinyl is the best software for reproduced music. All the other perks of record collecting are ancillary. The other side of the high fidelity equation is the hardware. For the past few weeks I've been looking to upgrade my amplifier, a humble but musical integrated tube amp. Over the weekend I picked up a McIntosh MC275 tube amp, a modern reproduction of a classic design first produced in 1961, and a McIntosh C220 tube preamp. I've spent the last 5 hours listening to records with the new gear in the system. The system is getting really close to sounding like live music, with the same kind of emotional impact. If I were more outgoing I'd be attending more live concerts. But I'm not. Like most audiophiles and record collectors, I'm introverted. I'm content sitting in my favorite chair with a glass of scotch listening to something that is a pretty good facsimile of live music. The fact that the new amps helped create music that sent a chill down my spine while listening to "The Way That Young Lovers Do" and had me laughing while listening to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" convinces me this has been a worthwhile venture.

Here are the old warhorses on tonight's playlist to test the new gear:
The Who, Who's Next, side 1 (Classics Records reissue)
Fleetwood Mac, Rumors, side 1 (WB original pressing)
Buena Vista Social Club, s/t, sides 1+2 (Classic Records)
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks, side 2 (WB reissue)
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, side 1 (Classic Records reissue)
PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love, side 2 (Universal UK pressing)
The Beatles, s/t (White Album), sides 1+2 (Apple Records original pressing)
Mahler, Symphony No. 2, final movement, Solti, London SO (London English pressing)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions (Presidential Inauguration Edition)

Freddie Hubbard, Keep Your Soul Together (CTI, RVG in dead wax, $6). Obama would probably dig the mellow, funky jazz of mid-70's Hubbard. The album title is kind of Obama-style.

Syl Johnson, Total Explosion (Hi Records, $5). Michelle Obama would probably go for the straight soul of fellow Chicagoan Syl Johnson, with a slightly sexy edge and a great cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River". They should've danced to that at the inaugural balls instead of those lame-ass songs.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cosmos Factory (Fantasy blue label, original pressing, $5). Jimmy Carter's from southwest Georgia. That's pretty close to being born on the bayou. I bet Carter likes his rock music pretty rootsy or at least legumy.

The Doors, The Soft Parade (Elektra, big "E" red label, original pressing, $2, to replace a worn-out copy). Bill Clinton probably got stoned listening to The Doors some time in his life. "Touch Me" would be a great theme song for him.

Run-DMC, Raising Hell (Profile Records, $3). This one is for Teddy Roosevelt all the way.

Mongo Santamaria, Live at the Village Gate (Columbia, stereo 2-eye label, $1). W. would love this album. It's got congas. "Mongo" would be a good nickname for W.

Debussy/Ravel, Quartets, Quartetto Italiano (Philips, $4). The only president who I can imagine enjoying this music is francophile Jefferson and perhaps FDR after he was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer jitterbug.

Debussy, Images, Munch/Boston Symphony Orchestra (RCA Victrola plum label, $2). See above.

Ravel/Prokofiev, Piano Concertos, Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer, Munch/BSO (RCA Vic plum label, $2). I can picture Reagan listening to this just to get all riled up to hate on the French and the Russians. There's some dissonance in this music that would get under the skin of someone who grew up listening to Lawrence Welk.

Paul McCartney, Amoeba's Secret, (MBL, vinyl-only limited edition of an unannounced Macca performance at the Hollywood Amoeba, $9). This is a 4-song EP bought for a friend who's the biggest-Beatles-fan-who-had-never-heard-of-this-album-until-a-non-Beatles-fan-friend-told-him-about-it. Not sure why I think Hillary Clinton is a huge McCartney fan. Could it be they share a fondness for the mullet hair style?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Listening Session: Ryan Adams and Destroyer

Ryan Adams, Cardinology (Lost Highway Records)
The fun of this limited edition LP is in the packaging: cool red vinyl, a bonus 7-inch single and lyrics in the form of a comic book by the same artist who designed the primitive gothic cover. The first side of the album is pretty fun too, with Adams in terrific voice and The Cardinals providing great support. But the album flags considerably on the second side. It gets pretty glum. As talented as Adams is, the thing that keeps me from completely embracing him is his self-absorbed melancholy. I'm sure he doesn't give a shit what I or anyone else thinks; he'll keep doing what he wants to do. And that's what keeps me interested. He's going full speed with no brakes, barely any steering, and lots of passion (or could it just be the amphetamines?) In Adams' world there seems to be no difference between good songs and bad songs. He chews through it all as if his life depended on it. (Editor's note: I'm not sure how true that last sentence is since he announced his retirement recently.)

Destroyer, Your Blues (Scratch Records) 
Another songwriter who's pursuing his own thing is Dan Bejar of Destroyer and sometimes of the New Pornographers. Whereas Ryan Adams clearly works in the country-rock genre ("alt" is a key on the keyboard and a meaningless prefix to describe a musical genre), it's not clear what genre Dan Bejar works in. But there's no mistaking a Destroyer album for any other. He's strongly influenced by Hunky Dory-era Bowie, but doesn't share Bowie's adherence to basic rock and blues song structure. I guess "chamber pop" comes closest to describing the music on Your Blues. And what to make of the lyrics? They're surreal, but on the edge of being meaningful and even profound. Your Blues is one of the few recent pop albums I've listened to that's free of cliche, musically and lyrically. It's also one of the prettiest pop albums I've heard in a long time (in a minor key kind of way).

The sound quality of both albums is way above normal for modern pop-rock recordings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Album Cover Gallery: The Smoking Lounge

Smoking may not be good for your health, but it's great for album covers. I can imagine the reaction of kids today to these covers: "Ew, gross!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Records as Personal Artifacts

When buying a used record, occasionally you get more than the music and the cover art, you come across personal signs of the previous owner. Tonight as I pulled out MFSB's Love Is the Message, I noticed a small sticker on the back cover, the kind used as a return address label on envelopes with a name and full mailing address. When I pulled out the record from the sleeve, there was another small white sticker on the record label with "Alicia Saucedo" written neatly on it. This type of personal information always starts me thinking about the person who used to own the record. For example, what type of person decides to write her name on a label before sticking it to the record? Why didn't she write her name directly on the record label, like Zuckerman did with a felt pen on his (now my) copy of Led Zeppelin IV? Did she place the mailing label on the back cover, because she took the album to parties and wanted to make sure it was returned to her in case she left it behind? I could try writing Alicia to find out, if she still lives at the same address.

Once I bought half a dozen records at a shop. When I returned home I discovered inside two of the record jackets an index card with various dates written on it. I guessed the previous owner wrote down the date on the card each time he listened to the album, similar to a library card stamped each time the book is checked out. I felt an immediate affinity with him. After all, this is something I would do. (Instead I keep a notebook and now a blog.) Also, of the thousands of records in the shop, I happened to select two albums owned by him. As fastidious as he was about recording the dates he listened to an album, he had no inclination to leave his name anywhere on the album cover, the record or the card. So this kindred spirit remains nameless to me.

Then there was the time I brought home a copy of David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name. When I opened up the gatefold cover, dried, almost powdery, marijuana leaves drifted to the floor. I shouldn't have been surprised.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Record Collecting: Not Just for Middle-Aged Men Anymore?

The recent KUSF Rock ‘n’ Swap was well-attended. The number of people who weren’t middle-aged men was striking. I’ve noticed a growing number of young men attending recent record swaps. But yesterday I noticed for the first time kids with their mothers in tow and more women on their own than I’ve ever seen before. Instead of middle-aged men comprising 90% of the crowd, it was more like 70%.

Is it time to revise my theory about record-collecting fulfilling a primitive male instinct for hunting and gathering? Not just yet.

(The reason there’s no pic for this post: I was going to take some photos of the record swap, but after 3 hours of flipping through a million boxes of records, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Besides, pasty-skinned record collectors are not attractive subjects for photos, unless you're Diane Arbus.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions (1-11-09)

Out of control at the KUSF Rock 'n' Swap and SF Amoeba:

Ketty Lester, Ketty Lester (Pete Records, $5). I'm always on the look out for obscure 60's and 70's soul singers, many of whom are undeservedly neglected. Ketty turns out to have had an inconsistent career as a singer and actress, including a supporting role on Little House on the Prairie, according to Wikipedia. There were black people on that show? (File under: Folk-Soul)

Buckingham Nicks, Buckingham Nicks (Polydor, original pressing with gatefold cover, $5). Stevie and Lindsay's album before joining Fleetwood Mac. (File under: Music Gods)

Neil Young, After the Gold Rush (Reprise orange and tan label, original pressing, $3). I've been looking for years for a copy with the orange-and-tan label. I was beginning to think they didn't exist. After the Gold Rush was pressed with the orange-and-tan label for a few months before Reprise changed to an all-tan label. So this is a very early pressing. (File: Young Neil)

The Kinks, Arthur (Reprise orange and tan label, original pressing, $4). Classic Kinks albums from the 60's are hard to find. In contrast, their 70's albums are everywhere. Check underneath your sofa cushions. You'll probably find one there. (File under: Sibling Rivalries)

Blow-Up Soundtrack (MGM, original pressing, $5). Herbie Hancock composed the score for this Antonioni film. Another album I've been looking for for years. (File under: Jazz for Pretentious Italians)

Gato Barbieri, Chapter Two: Hasta Siempre (ABC Impulse, $3). I'm sure there'll be a time I'm in the mood to listen to a former free-jazz saxophonist playing like a banshee backed by a heavy Latin rhythm section. (File under: Screaming Argentinian Saxophonists)

Bob Dylan, Down in the Groove (Columbia 1A/1A stampers, $3). I confess, I won't be satisfied until I have all his albums, including the mediocre ones (File under: Meh Dylan)

Bob Dylan, Shot of Love (Columbia, $2). See above.

Tom Waits, Mule Variations (Anti-, $10). There's a strange phenomenon in collecting that an album becomes more desirable after it goes out of print.

Nina Simone, At Town Hall (Colpix, original pressing, $2). It seems the Nina Simone revival is over, judging by the number of her albums in the used bins. Good! (File under: Androgynous Singers Imitated by Cee-Lo)

The Tremeloes, Here Comes My Baby (Epic yellow label, $2). Not sure why I bought this. Perhaps it'll bring me happiness. (File under: Pure Pop for Not So Now People)

Vince Guaraldi Trio, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (Fantasy stereo, original pressing on blue vinyl, $5). This has got to be one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time based on the number of used copies I've come across. I'd been holding out for a clean, affordable original pressing. (File under: Vince Guaraldi, Pre-Charlie Brown)

Cal Tjader, Plays Harold Arlen (Fantasy stereo, original pressing on blue vinyl, $5). The vibraphone can make me happy. It can also get me annoyed. (File under: Vibes, Good or Vibes, Bad--to be determined)

Mile Davis, The Complete Birth of the Cool (Capitol yellow label, 70's reissue? $2)

Freddie Hubbard, Red Clay (CTI, Van Gelder stamped in the dead wax, $7). This is one of the more difficult Hubbard CTI albums to find and probably one of his best. (File under: Good Jazz Albums with Bad Titles)

LA4, Just Friends (Concord, $2). The direct-to-disc version of this album sells for a lot. This isn't one of them, but the music should be fine with a line-up of Laurindo Almeida, Bud Shank, Ray Brown, and Jeff Hamilton. (File under: Jazz Albums with Sexually Ambiguous Titles that Require Further Explanation)

MFSB, Love Is the Message (Philadelphia International, $2). This album has one of the grooviest tunes ever recorded, "T.S.O.P." used for the theme to Soul Train. (File under: Music for an Ass Shaking)

The Smiths, The Smiths (Sire, $5). This completes my Smiths LP collection on Sire. (File under: Last of the International Whiners)

Francoise Hardy, Mon Amour Adieu (Reprise orange and tan label, $8). I really like the one Francoise Hardy album I have. Her albums are really hard to come by though. Americans probably don't like albums with lyrics in a foreign language, although wordless foreign music is acceptable, like "The Macarena". (File under: Albums You Can't Understand)

The Universal Congress Of, Prosperous and Qualified (SST, $5). See previous Acquisitions post.

Thelonious Monk, The Golden Monk (Riverside blue label, 60's reissue of his classic 50's date with Sonny Rollins, $6)

Frank Sinatra, Sinatra Swings (Reprise custom Sinatra label, $3). The only thing better than happy Frank is sad Frank (File under: Preternaturally Sensitive Thugs)

Ella Fitzgerald, Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book (Verve deep-groove original pressing, 2-LPs, $3). Ella spelled backwards is Alle, which means "everything" in German. What more can I tell you? (File under: Ella uber alles)

Herbie Mann and the Bill Evans Trio, Nirvana (Atlantic mono original pressing, $1). I didn't know this album existed. I still have a hard time believing it even as I see it with my own eyes. (File under: Unholy Jazz Pairings)

Nirvana, In Utero (Geffen, 180g German pressing, new for $20). The German pressings of Nirvana albums are supposed to be the best sounding. (File under: Audiophile Grunge)

Nirvana, Unplugged in New York (Geffen, 180g EU pressing, new for $20). See above.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Listening Session: Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5

Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra (RCA LSC-2866)

Shostakovich wrote of his Fifth: "The theme of my symphony is the stabilization of a personality. In the center of this composition--conceived lyrically from beginning to end--I saw a man with all his experiences. The finale resolves the tragically tense impulses of the earlier movement into optimism and joy of living."

Shostakovich was a master of evoking tragedy and despair. However, as this work reveals, optimism and joy came a little harder for him. The joyful ending comes abruptly without build-up or a convincing transition from the angst and tension that precedes it for most of the symphony. The finale is like a happy ending slapped on at the end of a serious movie to satisfy a test audience. (In the case of the composer, the test audience may have been the Soviet politburo.) There's more authenticity to the buffoonish second movement that separates the moving angst and sadness of the first and third movements. It starts with a grotesque waltz and the forced lightness of this movement compared to the rest of the symphony is, I think, intentionally perverse. It's sarcastically happy music. Shostakovich knew tragedy and despair all too well in his personal life and as witness to what his country had to endure under Soviet totalitarianism. This symphony makes clear that it wasn't a hope of a better tomorrow that got him through, but rather the ability to laugh in the face of the worst that life could throw at him. It's a quality that he shares with many great Russian artists.

Drink for this Listening Session: Lismore single-malt scotch whisky. This is a Speyside, which tends to be more mellow and smooth than other single-malts. Some may consider it bland, but I like it just fine, especially for the price, $17 at Trader Joe's for a 750ml bottle.

Album Cover Gallery: The Monochromatic Portrait

Looking at album covers is one of the pleasures of record collecting.  I'm particularly fond of the use of monochromatic photographs in the cover design.  These are a few of my favorites.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dollar Record Bins: An Alternative History of Music (The Sixties)

One of the rituals of record collecting is sifting through the dollar bins of record stores and thrift shops. What you'll discover in the dollar record bins is the real history of American popular music, not the highly selective history found in music books. Focusing on the 60's, most music fans will say it was a seminal era for jazz, with Miles and Coltrane hitting their musical peaks. What the record bins will show you is that for every Miles or Coltrane album sold there must have been dozens or hundreds of Al Hirt or Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums sold. This is the "jazz" most Americans were tuned into.

The British Invasion also happened in the 60's. Everyone remembers the Beatles. Music fans will point out other British acts like the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Them, and Donovan who invaded these shores. No one seems to count Tom Jones and Petula Clark. But if album numbers were a sign of force, they were the most formidable British invaders after the Beatles.

Judging by their representation in the dollar bins, classical music was still popular in the 60's. But the traditional classical albums are outnumbered by the light- or quasi-classical albums by such interpreters as Mantovani and the Melachrino Strings and Orchestra. It seems most Americans wanted their classical music deboned of all musical rigor, leaving just a fleshy, soft sort of music. You'll find the Melachrino Strings' Music for Relaxing in most dollar bins. Speaking of soft, fleshy music, the 60's were also the dawn of the age of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, who dominate the dollar bins like no other, as any record collector will tell you.

There's good reason that most of these albums have been relegated to the dusty dollar bins of music history. But at one time, this was the music that captured the mood and the spirit of this nation. It's an interesting, if somewhat depressing, education.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Listening Session: Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love

I became a music fan because of Bruce Springsteen. Having never heard of him, I felt compelled to buy Darkness on the Edge of Town because of the record cover and the album title. I was lifted by the songs and enthralled by Springsteen's grand vision of ordinary life. The wild romaticism and the mythic quality of his songs were just the antidote needed by a 15-year-old growing up in a boring suburban town. Springsteen told me life is bigger than this. I believed him. I bought all his albums and a few bootlegs as well.

I picked up Tunnel of Love when it came out in 1987. I thought it was an okay album and quickly forgot about it. It was also the last Springsteen album I bought. Twenty years later, it's the Springsteen album I listen to the most. What's remarkable about the album is its smallness. Gone is the larger-than-life mythic vision. What's left is humility. It's the most un-Springsteen Springsteen album, more so than Nebraska, which turns out to have been a precursor to his more recent pursuit of a different kind of American myth. Tunnel of Love plays like a public declaration of divorce and apology, as the sense of a dissolving relationship seeps through the album. It can be a fairly uncomfortable listen, as if you're eavesdropping on a private conversation, thinking he's being too honest. It wasn't surprising to hear about his pending divorce soon after the album's release. Tunnel of Love is easily his most personal album and one of his best. In hindsight. 

Sound Quality: Most Springsteen albums don't have the sonic qualities that excite audiophiles. They sound muddy.  I seem to recall that this was on purpose, which makes sense for songs that harken back to old-fashioned rock and roll listened to on an AM radio. Tunnel of Love is an exception. It possesses near reference quality sonics. The dead wax shows Sterling as the source of the mastering and the liner notes credit Bob Ludwig as the mastering engineer, one of the best in the business. The dead wax also has a DMM stamp. Direct Metal Mastering cuts out a step in the record-making process, which usually results in a better sounding record. The end result is a transparency to the recording that contributes to the sense of intimacy created by the music and the lyrics.

This Week's Acquisitions

The Universal Congress Of, This Is Mecolodics (SST 204, vg+/vg+ for $3). This isn't something you see every day, a free jazz album put out by a punk rock record label. Curiosity got the better part of me. It's actually really good, except for the free jazz version of "Happy Birthday". Yeah, that "Happy Birthday". The cover is a cool parody of Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music cover. Will be on the look out for their other albums (File under: Hors categorie)

Horace Silver, The Styling of Silver (Classic Records reissue of Blue Note 1562, new for $25). Can't go wrong with a Horace Silver Blue Note record from the 50s and early 60s. So far, not a dud in the bunch. (File under: Funky hard bop)

Gabor Szabo, The Sorcerer (Impulse! A-9146, red and black label, 2nd pressing, nm-/vg+ for $3). This is Szabo's first album on the Impulse! label as a leader. It fills a big gap in my Szabo Impulse! collection. (File under: Hungarian jazz guitarists)

The Smiths, "William It Was Really Nothing"/b-side: "How Soon Is Now" and "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" (12" single on Rough Trade, vg+/vg+ for $8). Smiths songs are supposed to sound the best on 12" singles pressed in the UK. I'm not sure if it's true, but it sounds true. (File under: Drama)

From the dollar bin:

Dave Brubeck, My Favorite Things (Columbia two-eye mono). I'll pick up any clean Brubeck album for a buck, but only if Paul Desmond plays on it.

Van Morrison, Veedon Fleece (Warner Brothers palm tree label). Not sure what this out-of-print classic was doing in the dollar bin. I'll spend a buck to find out if it sounds better than my current copy.

Nancy Wilson, Nancy-Naturally (Capitol rainbow label). Could be good with Billy May doing the arrangements, thought I. Turns out to be a blues album. And the blues should never be sung with a big band. Toss on the re-sell pile.

Ernestine Anderson, Hello Like Before (Concord). Anderson backed by a jazz trio on the Concord label. It's got to be good. And a good bit tougher than Diana Krall and her ilk.

Record Collecting Vocabulary

Record collecting may not be the coolest hobby, but it undoubtedly has a cool, secret vocabulary. Who else but collectors know the meaning of Columbia six-eyes, London blue-backs, RCA shaded-dogs, plum Atlantics, and deep-groove Blue Notes? Even words to describe the record itself sound cool, such as the trail-off groove, which is the musicless groove found at the end of each side or more correctly in the dead wax, the blank ring of vinyl between the last track and the record label. For collectors, there is usually a wealth of information in the dead wax, including the matrix number which can offer clues to when and where the record was stamped. The dead wax might also include the name or initials of the engineer who mastered this particular pressing of the record. It's also a place where the recording artist may inscribe a message for those of us who are obsessive enough to look at all the details of a record.