The cynic in me blames Capitol Records for Side 1 of the Decemberists’ Crane Wife not sounding its best. I assume the major label cut costs on the vinyl manufacturing and all us crack pot record lovers have to suffer.
When I first pulled the record from its sleeve it caught the light in a way that revealed mold release residue spots like dusty finger prints all over the playing surface. When I spun the record on my Music Hall MMF-5 turntable, it had a definite warp. Dropping the needle confirmed the warps sonic signature: noise, pops and snaps with every 33 1/3 rotation.
Shu-shuk, shu-shuk, pop.
I’ve never heard Crane Wife before, not on CD, MP3 or internet radio. Beyond the rough surface noise the album presented a nice, clean soundstage with good separation between the many layered instruments. Colin McCoy’s voice, though, sounded hard, as in hitting the ceiling flat to the point of caustic distortion. Again, with no reference point, I don’t know if this is in the recording (done with the iZ Tech 24 track RADAR V, 24 bit/192 kHz at Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice), pressing or if I need to bust out the mirror, mini-torques, magnifying glass and bright lights and re-align my cartridge. I hate it when a new software title makes me doubt my hardware, I usually find the hardware was fine all along and the software is just buggy.
This noisy record has inspired me to investigate $40 DIY record cleaner machines again. I hope my local Goodwill has the right components to harvest: ice cream maker, air pump, vacuum cleaner with a 10 amp motor and a turntable platter. If I cannot find the right parts I can always spend $159 on a KAB EV-1 manual RCM.
Just as the turntable’s needle hit the run out groove, Beth arrived home from some quick Target shopping. “This new Decemberists album sounds terrible, so noisy,” I showed her the record and tried to get the right reflection angle so she could see the smudges. “Yeah, that’s bad,” Beth has an expert eye as she used to grade used vinyl for a living in the Nineties. As we were checking it out I also noticed how carelessly the label was affixed to the record and picked off some fine vinyl shavings from the record’s edge. “Plus, it’s warped.”
I slid the record back into its sleeve and returned it to my shelf. I was looking forward to listening to the whole album, but got discouraged in the first 15 minutes. I even pulled out all my acoustic treatments and carefully placed them around the room. Now I had to remove them back to the laundry room storage.
I probably won’t play the album again until I find or build a cleaning solution. This hobby is frustrating and rewarding.