The Beatles – Mono Box Set

Posted: April 19, 2018 in Vinyl
Tags: ,

Starting in 2012 EMI/Apple Records started re-mastering the entire Beatles catalog. It marked the first time the bulk of their albums underwent a re-mastering in both mono and stereo. Two separate box sets were released, one in mono and one in stereo, along with all the albums being released individually on both formats. It presented the best opportunity for anyone to add the entire Beatles discography to their collection at a relatively inexpensive price, at the most optimal sound quality.

To even to least informed person, The Beatles are known to be not only one of the most popular acts, but one of the most collectible bands in history. And as such some of their albums and other assorted memorabilia can fetch a pretty penny. Original pressings of their albums can go for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, with various pressings between then and now selling for similar figures. Which brings me back to the affordability of these box sets, especially if you wanted to pick up their entire discography for whatever reason. It might not seem like $400 is affordable, but considering what you get with these box sets, and by sheer comparison to other purchase options out there, these box sets are a bargain.

Like I just stated, the original retail price of each version (mono or stereo) of the box sets was around $400; $450 for the stereo box and $375 for the mono box to be exact. With the mono box you get 11 albums and with the stereo box you get 14 albums. The difference in total between the box sets is due to some of the Beatles albums never being recorded in mono, which started with Yellow Submarine and took you through Abbey Road and Let It Be. On top of the albums, you get a rather large, or extremely large hard cover book. The book with the mono box is only 108 pages, while the book with the stereo box is 252 pages.

With this post I will focus on the mono box, which is the more popular box for a multitude of reasons. For the stereo box check here. When The Beatles formed in the early 60s the only recording option was monophonic, or mono, meaning one channel. In laymen’s terms, the sound only plays through one speaker. So if you have a sound system utilizing multiple speakers, the same audio will play through all the speakers in your set up, regardless if you have independent subwoofers, mids, tweeters, etc. So for the purists out there, and/or those who listened to The Beatles while their career was still active, the mono masters are the end all be all and the definitive example of their music.

Personally, I have no preference to either mono or stereo. Since I grew up with stereo, my ear will always have a bias towards that, but I can appreciate mono recordings. When you listen to a Beatles album and do a comparison between mono and stereo, you appreciate aspects in both formats. You notice things that either are there or aren’t there between each format, notice that some things just don’t work in stereo like they did in mono or find something interesting in the stereo master of an album originally recorded in mono.

For the mono box, the original packaging of all the albums was meticulous re-created. Also included is a small, folded insert explaining the re-mastering process used. It’s basically the same exact insert for all the mono albums, save for the album titled and track listing. Even the advertisement on the back of the insert is the same for all the mono albums. The ad is for The Beatles “Love” Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas, which is still being performed to this day The replication of the original packaging is yet another draw to this mono box set. If you still want an original pressing of any of their albums, more power to you, but this box set definitely makes everything more accessible to everyone.

Not only is the packaging for the mono box set amazing, the sound quality should be the biggest draw here. I have had the pleasure of doing a comparison between some of the original pressings and the records included with this box set, and it’s actually a tossup as to which sounds better. Granted the original pressings I listened to were not in mint condition, they have been extensively played over the years, but they were far from terrible condition. I’d probably grade them at VG.

If you read up on the mastering of these re-mastered box sets, they were done from the original master tapes, at Abbey Road Studios, referencing the original notes made by the engineer of each album, while being cut specifically for vinyl. Those facts are nothing we haven’t heard before, as the resurgence of vinyl has led to many albums be re-mastered, if for nothing else but to cash in on the aforementioned vinyl resurgence. But with that said, these Beatles re-masters seem different. There seems to be a genuine effort behind them, which is reflected in the sound presented on each album. One key difference that should be noted with the re-mastering job though, is that due to technological advances in the 50 odd years in some cases since some of the album’s original release, more substance has been revealed. I can say that, while subtle, there are some differences between the original masters and these current re-masters. In some instances it may just be as simple as having a crisper sound, while in others it’s like listening to the album for the first time all over again. Things like dynamic range are more pronounced. A clear delineation of vocals and rhythm are heard. Harmonies are more vibrant. And the layers of music come across more clear and precise.

Circling back to the packaging for the mono box, there are some key differences between the mono and stereo box that will help you tell the difference between them. Not like this is difficult to observe on your own, but I’m all about being as detailed as possible on this blog. The mono box is white, and has the title on the release/box as “The Beatles In Mono.” The stereo box is black, and makes no mention of “stereo” anywhere on the packaging. Other than the obvious color difference between them, that is one of the only difference between the two boxes. The only other difference is that the stereo box has the order of the items in the box printed on both sides of the box. This is something that is easier described in photos than words, which you can see in the post for the stereo box here.

Inside the mono box, which does not come shrink wrapped (the stereo box comes shrink wrapped as well) , two silicate packets are placed on top of contents of the box (records and book) along with foam padding. There is also foam padding placed vertically inside the box, in front of the records along the front of the box itself. It ships from the manufacturer in front of the records and book, but depending on how you want to store your box set, you could easily swap positions and e put the foam against the back wall of the box while putting the records and book in front of it. Aside from the foam, the box set comes from the manufacturer with records in front of the book. I would not recommend putting the book in front of the records under any circumstances. Even though the mono book is less than half the size of the stereo book, it still weighs quite a bit, and it’s not worth damaging the records to re-organize your box to put the book at the front. The records are organized chronologically inside the box, and the records do not come shrink wrapped. They do, however, come in re-sealable poly sleeves with a flap. The box itself opens from the top, with the lid remaining attached to the box. Each of the boxes, not just either the mono or stereo box, has a slip case cover. It’s not much, but there is a thin sleeve than slides over the top of the box, which is purely for hype/promo as it advertises the contents of the respective box on the back.

Because it’s been quite a few years since these box sets came out, prices are starting to drastically fall. As mentioned earlier in the entry, the original price for the stereo box was $450, coming out to roughly $ 32 per album without factoring in the price of the book or the box the records come in, which is an arbitrary price determined by the owner of the box. That original retail price falls in line with records being overpriced for a multitude of reasons. And they sold a good chunk of box sets when they first came out because there was a lot of hype around them, and plenty of demand too. But many boxes are still lingering to this day, though I’m not sure if they just kept on pressing them over the years.

I bought one copy of each of the box sets for a little under $135 shipped apiece. I bought them from a horrible merch company that is based in the UK but ships North American orders out of Canada, and I paid in Canadian Dollars, so the exchange rate was very much on my side. This was back in February 2017 during a ridiculous 50% off sale this merch company was running on box sets, and tack on an additional 15% off coupon code, and you wind up getting a $375 box set for $132.50.

My only gripe about both of these box sets, not just the mono or stereo box, is that neither of them come with download cards/codes. You think they would, especially in this day and age, but Apple Records / the surviving Beatles are notoriously greedy, and sadly it’s not surprising that they would want to make as much money as possible off these re-masters. And they somewhat succeed with that philosophy as you would have to buy their entire catalog again, either the digital downloads or the CD’s, in order to have the best quality MP3s of the songs. It’s a lame move on any label’s part, but since The Beatles were really taken advantage of earlier in their career when the rights to their music were literally sold out from underneath them, the tiniest bit of slack should be cut for them. The rights to The Beatles catalog was sold to Michael Jackson of all people. Figures that the one person who has/had more money than the Beatles, outbid them, for the rights to their own music.

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The Beatles Stereo Box Set

Posted: April 17, 2018 in Vinyl
Tags: ,

Starting in 2012 EMI/Apple Records started re-mastering the entire Beatles catalog. It marked the first time the bulk of their albums underwent a re-mastering in both mono and stereo. Two separate box sets were released, one in mono and one in stereo, along with all the albums being released individually on both formats. It presented the best opportunity for anyone to add the entire Beatles discography to their collection at a relatively inexpensive price, at the most optimal sound quality.

To even to least informed person, The Beatles are known to be not only one of the most popular bands, but one of the most collectible bands in history. And as such some of their albums and other assorted memorabilia can fetch a pretty penny. Original pressings of their albums can go for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, with various pressings between then and now selling for similar figures. Which brings me back to the affordability of these box sets, especially if you wanted to pick up their entire discography for whatever reason. It might not seem like $400 is affordable, but considering what you get with these box sets, and by sheer comparison to other purchase options out there, these box sets are a bargain.

Like I just stated, the original retail price of each version (mono or stereo) of the box sets was around $400; $450 for the stereo box and $375 for the mono box to be exact. With the mono box you get 11 albums and with the stereo box you get 14 albums. The difference in total between the box sets is due to some of the Beatles albums never being recorded in mono, which started with Yellow Submarine and took you through Abbey Road and Let It Be. On top of the albums, you get a rather large, or extremely large hard cover book. The book with the mono box is only 108 pages, while the book with the stereo box is 252 pages.

With this post I will focus on the stereo box, which is the less popular box for a multitude of reasons. For the mono box check here. There are two different pressings/versions of the stereo box set, and one is far better than the other and more desirable as a result. There is a U.S. pressing and UK/European pressing. The Euro box is the one to go for. The U.S. pressing was plague with problems and pressing errors/defects that led to awful sound quality, which had many people actually return the U.S. stereo box sets. No idea what led to the total lack of quality control with the U.S. pressing, but the Euro pressing seemed to be free of these problems, or any problems in fact. Any sound issues with the Euro stereo box is down to the mastering done to a particular album, not any defects.

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that the UK/Euro pressing/version has a small black sticker on the shrink wrap, placed on the back of the box, which says “Packaged in USA Records Made in Germany.” Other than that sticker it’s impossible to ensure you have a Euro box prior to purchasing/opening. The bar codes on each pressing/version are identical, and even if you order from North America you might not get the U.S. pressing. I ordered from a horrible merch company that is based in the UK but ships North America orders out of Canada, and I received a copy from the Euro pressing. Aside from that aforementioned sticker, the Euro and U.S. pressing have different matrix numbers for every album in the box. But obviously you can’t see that before buying the box.

Personally, I have no preference to either mono or stereo. Since I grew up with stereo, my ear will always have a bias towards that, but I can appreciate mono recordings. When you listen to a Beatles album and do a comparison between mono and stereo, you appreciate aspects in both formats. You notice things that either are there or aren’t there between each format, notice that some things just don’t work in stereo like they did in mono or find something interesting in the stereo master of an album originally recorded in mono.

Unlike with the mono box, the original packaging of all the albums was not meticulous re-created for the stereo box. All the albums come shrink wrapped too, with a long black rectangle hype sticker on the top right corner, which did not happen in the mono box set. The hype stickers are pretty much identical for each album in the set, at least the basic design. They kept the layout/design uniform, which is a nice touch. Some albums in the stereo box come with different items compared to their mono box counterpart. Because the intention of the mono box was to be true to the original packaging, albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band don’t come with an additional full color dust sleeve on card stock like the stereo box does. And the stereo box version of Beatles For Sale comes in a traditional gatefold jacket instead of the gatefold type jacket the mono box version comes in, which just has the thin cover fold open, leaving a traditional single pocket jacket behind it where the record slides in.

Another key difference with the records in the stereo box is that the Past Masters album is only a double LP, whereas in the mono box it’s a triple LP. As a result there is an extra panel on the mono box version, which has a tri-fold jacket instead of a traditional gatefold jacket like the stereo box version. Another difference with the Past Masters album is that the stereo box version comes with an insert and the mono box version does not. This insert has what is printed on the tri-fold jacket from the mono box version of Past Masters, all due to size constraints. Inside the gatefold jacket of the stereo box version is a black and white promo photo of the band.

Not only is the packaging for the stereo box set amazing, the sound quality should be the biggest draw here. I have had the pleasure of doing a comparison between some (not every album) of the original pressings and the records included with this box set, and it’s actually a tossup as to which sounds better. Granted the original pressings I listened to were not in mint condition, they have been extensively played over the years, but they were far from terrible condition. I’d probably grade them at VG.

If you read up on the mastering of these re-mastered box sets, they were done from the original master tapes, at Abbey Road Studios, referencing the original notes made by the engineer of each album, while being cut specifically for vinyl. Those facts are nothing we haven’t heard before, as the resurgence of vinyl has led to many albums be re-mastered, if for nothing else but to cash in on the aforementioned vinyl resurgence. But with that said, these Beatles re-masters seem different. There seems to be a genuine effort behind them, which is reflected in the sound presented on each album. One key difference that should be noted with the re-mastering job though, is that due to technological advances in the 50 odd years in some cases since some of the album’s original release, more substance has been revealed. I can say that, while subtle, there are some differences between the original masters and these current re-masters. In some instances it may just be as simple as having a crisper sound, while in others it’s like listening to the album for the first time all over again. Things like dynamic range are more pronounced. A clear delineation of vocals and rhythm are heard. Harmonies are more vibrant. And the layers of music come across more clear and precise.

Circling back to the packaging for the stereo box, there are some key differences between the mono and stereo box that will help you tell the difference between them. Not like this is difficult to observe on your own, but I’m all about being as detailed as possible on this blog. The mono box is white, and has the title on the release/box as “The Beatles In Mono.” The stereo box is black, and makes no mention of “stereo” anywhere on the packaging. Other than the obvious color difference between them, that is one of the only differences between the two boxes. The only other difference is that the stereo box has the order of the items in the box printed on both sides of the box on and the slip case that slides over top. This is something that is easier described in photos than words, which you can see in the post for the stereo box here.

Inside the stereo box, which comes shrink wrapped (the mono box does not come shrink wrapped) , one silicate packet is placed on top of contents of the box (records and book). There is also foam padding placed vertically inside the box, in front of the records along the front of the box itself. It ships from the manufacturer in front of the records and book, but depending on how you want to store your box set, you could easily swap positions and put the foam against the back wall of the box while putting the records and book in front of it. Aside from the foam, the box set comes from the manufacturer with records in front of the book. I would not recommend putting the book in front of the records under any circumstances. The stereo book is more than twice the size of the mono book, and it weighs quite a bit more as a result, so it’s not worth damaging the records to re-organize your box to put the book at the front. The records are organized chronologically inside the box. The box itself opens from the top, with the lid remaining attached to the box. Each of the boxes, not just either the mono or stereo box, has a slip case cover. It’s not much, but there is a thin sleeve than slides over the top of the box, which is purely for hype/promo as it advertises the contents of the respective box on the back.

Regarding the book, it’s easily worth $40-50. It’s much nicer than the book that comes with the mono box set. While they both have similar content, the sheer size of the stereo book compared to the mono book, 252 pages to 108 pages, makes it better. But that fact aside, the stereo book has more detailed info, some different photos. Because of the size, the stereo book goes more in depth for each album, dedicating multiple pages to each. While the mono book only has 1 or 2 pages per album with actual information, the stereo book has around 4 pages of info and a couple of photos from the era. The cover is embossed, and has more detailed imagery on the both the front and back cover than the mono book. It seems like the mono book was meant to be more of a photo book than a legitimate book, while the stereo book is both. It has plenty of photos and lots of information.

Because it’s been quite a few years since these box sets came out, especially the stereo box (2012), prices are starting to drastically fall. As mentioned earlier in the entry, the original price for the stereo box was $450, coming out to roughly $32 per album without factoring in the price of the book or the box the records come in, which is an arbitrary price determined by the owner of the box. That original retail price falls in line with records being overpriced for a multitude of reasons. And they sold a good chunk of box sets when they first came out because there was a lot of hype around them, and plenty of demand too. But many boxes are still lingering to this day, though I’m not sure if they just kept on pressing them over the years.

I bought one copy of each of the box sets for a little under $135 shipped apiece. As mentioned earlier, I bought them from a horrible merch company that is based in the UK but ships North America orders out of Canada, and paid in Canadian Dollars, so the exchange rate was very much on my side. This was back in February 2017 during a ridiculous 50% off sale this merch company was running on box sets, and tack on an additional 15% off coupon code, and you wind up getting a $400+ box set for $132.50. That deal gets even sweeter after you factor in that price for the book, along with the actual box itself, which makes the price of each record come down to a ludicrous amount. This entry is running so long and I’m running out of unique adjectives to describe things. The records were already at $14 a piece before factoring in the box, let alone the book. If you take the low end of the book, $40, and add in $10 for the box, each record in the box set comes out to an astoundingly low $6.08.

My only gripe about both of these box sets, not just the mono or stereo box, is that neither of them comes with download cards/codes. You think they would, especially in this day and age, but Apple Records / the surviving Beatles are notoriously greedy, and sadly it’s not surprising that they would want to make as much money as possible off these re-masters. And they somewhat succeed with that philosophy as you would have to buy their entire catalog again, either the digital downloads or the CD’s, in order to have the best quality MP3s of the songs. It’s a lame move on any label’s part, but since The Beatles were really taken advantage of earlier in their career when the rights to their music were literally sold out from underneath them, the tiniest bit of slack should be cut for them. The rights to The Beatles catalog was sold to Michael Jackson of all people. Figures that the one person who has/had more money than the Beatles, outbid them, for the rights to their own music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 MLB Predictions

Posted: March 28, 2018 in Baseball, Sports
Tags: ,

Major League Baseball seems to start their season earlier and earlier every year, which just shortens the time I have to do my due diligence with coming out with my predictions for the upcoming season. The 2018 season was especially tough considering lots of marquee free agents still have not signed. Anyway, I will try to make this as brief as possible. I originally planned on doing a division by division break down, but I found that in past years more people read my overall predictions rather than by division, so here goes.

Until recently the American League East used to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. There would always be one surprise team outside of the Yankees and Red Sox that would sneak up on them. Those days are gone though. But with that said that doesn’t mean the AL East is not a tough division to predict. It’s gone back to a fairly level playing field after New York and Boston. The Blue Jays went from an overnight powerhouse to one of the worst teams in the division, while the Rays have quietly improved. The Orioles are another team hovering around .500 who make it next to impossible to predict the correct final standings after 162 games.

The Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, with almost everyone (including Yankees brass) predicting that 2018 would be the year they would be contenders again. Coming within one game of the World Series with a team full of rookies and other inexperienced players thanks to Brian Cashman finally putting long overdue stock in the farm system has led to a resurgence in the Bronx. The addition of Giancarlo Stanton is the nail in the coffin of this division. And the fact that they did it for next to nothing is even more worrisome for the rest of baseball, not just the American League. The Yankees landed the best power hitter in baseball to go along with the second best power hitter in baseball who they already had in Aaron Judge, and it presents a lineup that is arguably the most fearsome since murderer’s row. Add in Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious, whomever of the platoon of center fielders, and you have a recipe for a pennant.

My only worry is their rotation, which is a real head scratcher. They re-signed former ace CC Sabathia, but other than that made no additions to what is the weakest part of their active roster. Jordan Montgomery was named the fifth starter. You’re still not sure what Masahiro Tanaka can provide considering his health is always a question mark. If you take away the brilliant performance CC turned in during the post season you’d be asking questions as to why Brian Cashman re-signed him. Sonny Gray was less than convincing since coming to the Bronx from Oakland, and he looked like a guy who just couldn’t play in New York. And until Luis Severino proves that last year was not a fluke, the most realistic Yankee fans will be on the edge of their seat.

I started writing this piece last week, before the news of the Greg Bird injury. This presents a hurdle for the Yankees that will leave them stumbling towards the finish line with aim for a World Series title. The fact that they don’t have a legitimate replacement in place for the oft injured Bird is worrisome, and I know the Yankees were really counting on Bird’s productivity in the lineup. Bird is expected to be out for six-to-eight weeks, and my money is on the latter part of that scenario. This is his second surgery on the same foot that had him miss most of the 2017 season. The fact that a bone spur popped up now, about six months after the first surgery is very concerning. Add in the fact that Bird missed all of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury and the question begs asking; is Greg Bird one of those players whose career is shortened due to chronic injuries?

The Red Sox won the division last year in what should have been a runaway. But the aforementioned premature Yankees made it interesting down the stretch. But it didn’t play out as the Red Sox wanted as they were booted from the playoffs in the divisional round. Boston made very little additions in the offseason to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. That fact is even more troublesome considering what the Yankees did in the offseason. Boston’s pitching staff is worse than the Yankees, but they will still make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Tampa Bay will sneak up on people, even without Evan Longoria. They have a good core of young players, and will also benefit from Baltimore rebuilding yet again and Toronto being caught in the dreaded no man’s land of not being in rebuild mode but also not being iserious contenders.

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Rays
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Moving west, the AL Central was a bit of a surprise last season as the second wild card came from there. Nobody had Minnesota being contenders last year. In fact, lots of people had them finishing dead last in the division and being one of the worst teams in the league. Paul Molitor did a great job at the helm, and with a few key additions the Twins should be back in contention this season as well. But they still want dethrone the reigning division champ Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland suffered the infamous Champions loss let down in 2017, losing the World Series in heartbreaking fashion after coming back to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th at home in Game 7. They still made the playoffs, but were beaten by the aforementioned Yankees in the divisional round. The Tribe will be back in the hunt again next year, but will fall short of making it back to the World Series. I think they will benefit from the weakest division in the American League.

The White Sox, Tigers and Royals are all in rebuilding mode, with the White Sox likely being the best of the lot in my opinion. As expected, the Royals continued to lose key players in free agency from their 2015 World Series Championship team. The Tigers are an odd mix of once great veterans and unheralded youngsters. It’s tough to get a read on them. But with basically the same roster last year they finished dead last in the division and were tied with the Giants for the worst record in baseball. I think given the caliber of players the Royals lost, they will finish slightly ahead of the Tigers.

  1. Indians
  2. Twins
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Tigers

 

I see no reason why the Astors won’t run away with the Al West once again in 2018. The only real completion they will face is for the best record in the American League with the Yankees. There was lots of hype around the Angels after they signed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. But it looks like he will be an epic bust in America. It looks like it will come down to pitching between the Angels and Mariners to determine who finishes in second place. Both teams have lots of pop in their lineups, but their pitching has been the thing to really let them down in recent years.

Oakland will frustratingly be Oakland yet again, but I don’t see them finishing last in the division next year since Texas made no significant additions in the offseason. Considering Oakland only finished three games behind the Rangers last year, and I think they have a better roster than Texas this year, I see Oakland getting out of the cellar next year. Still nowhere near contenders, but if there was one team in the American League that would be a surprise contender next year like the Twins were last year, Oakland would be a strong candidate.

  1. Astros
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s
  5. Rangers

 

The Nationals will once again be NL East champs in what is undoubtedly the worst division in baseball. The 2015 season is looking more and more like a fluke for the Mets, as they are back to being the Mets. The Marlins, after being one of the teams man people picked as being on the cusp of something great, are once again in tear down mode. Not just rebuilding, but a complete gut job is underway. New ownership traded away all their best players, and it honestly seems like the Marlins just never recovered after the untimely death of Jose Fernandez.

I want to add this in; I attended one game at Marlins Park while living in Miami for a year, and was fortunate to see Jose Fernandez pitch. I’ve been to a lot of baseball games in my life. I’ve witnessed Mark McGwire take batting practice in person. I’ve was at the final game of the old Yankee Stadium. Been in the ballpark when a World Series title was clinched. Sat there dumbfounded after the Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza bat throwing incident in the 2000 World Series. Stood on my seat cheering bench clearing brawls as Daryl Strawberry dove into the visiting Orioles dugout. Was there for the Mr. November game. I even saw a perfect game. But watching Jose Fernandez pitch that night was a thing of beauty. Hands down the best pitching performance I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in person.

  1. Nationals
  2. Mets
  3. Phillies
  4. Braves
  5. Marlins

 

It’s the end of an era in the NL Central as Andrew McCutcheon played his final game as a Pirate in 2017 and joined the San Francisco Giants in what has become a masterful job at retooling that ball club. If it wasn’t for the Reds I think the Pirates would finish in last place. That is how big of a loss McCutcheon is to Pittsburgh. Lots of people are high on the Brewers this season, but I’m just not quite there yet. I see them being a contender, but I think they’re still one or even two pieces away from getting into the playoffs. The Cubs will win the division again. Actually, I see this division finishing the same way as it did last year. You can never count the Cardinals out though.

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Reds

 

The NL West is the most intriguing division in baseball. The Dodgers will once again be the crème of the crop. But the Giants will come roaring back with all the additions they made in the offseason. It will be night and day with San Francisco. Their lineup got better practically overnight with the additions of Evan Longoria and the aforementioned Andrew McCutcheon. Also on the horizon are the San Diego Padres, who are finally on the uptick. I don’t think they will be able to contend in this division for another few years though, as they have to leap frog too many teams. They’re just not quite there yet. Either Arizona or Colorado will miss out on the playoffs. This was by far the hardest division to predict for 2018. Nobody saw the Rockies contending last year, and with the loss of Carlos Gonzalez, that will leave them on the outside looking in this year. But with that said, Arizona lost a key piece too. But I think they are still better equipped to make it back to the playoffs, quite frankly thanks to a sharp drop of in quality after the top teams in the National League.

  1. Dodgers
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

 

Now on to the playoffs. I hate to basically repeat what happened last year, having the same teams in the playoffs, but I really don’t see much changing. It’s basically the rich got richer. The National League Wild Card spots were the toughest to predict. It was a tossup between the Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, Rockies, Diamondbacks and I even contemplated the Giants. In the end I went with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. You can never trust the Mets. Like I said above the Brewers are still one or two key pieces away. And the Giants will be one of those pesky teams sticking around till the end, but they have some key pitching injuries that leave one of the weaker spots in their roster, much weaker.

I have the Red Sox beating the Twins in the AL Wild Card game, and the Diamondbacks beating the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card game. The Astros will beat the Indians in the AL division series, with the Yankees, having the best record in the AL, beating the Red Sox in the other division series matchup. The Cubs will beat the Nationals in the NL division series, and The Dodgers, having the best record in the NL, will beat the Diamondbacks in the remaining division series. The Nationals, once again, can’t get out of their own way.

The Dodgers will get back to the World Series, and I see their old friend Yu Darvish, now of the Cubs, playing a prominent role in that. The Yankees will get past the Astros this time. Lots about baseball, well sports in general, is a gut feeling you get. I have that gut feeling about this Yankees team. I think getting as close as they did last year with be extra motivation for them. The youngsters clearly showed they could handle both the big stage of playing in New York in general, and all the added attention that comes with being in the post season.

I think the Dodgers ownership group will do whatever it takes to win a World Series after finally getting over the hump of winning a pennant last year, especially after coming oh so close to winning it all. Before Greg Bird’s injury, I was tossing the idea of who would win the World Series back and forth between the Yankees and Dodgers. But considering Bird’s injury and the fact that the Yankees, in all their wisdom, did not go out and get a suitable backup, I have the Dodgers winning the World Series in 6 games. I think the bird injury is more serious than the Yankees are letting on to, and it will keep him out much longer than the two months. And if he does somehow get back in May, his production just won’t live up to expectations because of it. Maybe the Yankees were scared off after what happened with the free agent signing of Chris Carter last year. But Tyler Austin, and the possibility of Neil Walker filling in at first, are not going to be enough to get the job done in the Fall Classic.


Here is my bracket for the 2018 NCAA Division I Tournament. See gallery below for all my picks. Figured it would be better to take screenshots of my bracket than list out in writing all my picks.

I don’t have a formula for my picks; I don’t pick schools based on colors or mascots or funny names or what state they’re from. I use my gut, which is based on a team’s record (good wins vs. bad losses), coaching and the history of the program. I have schools I always go to, I call them my tournament teams. And then I have schools I never pick because they inevitably lose way earlier than they should. Unfortunately this year there were far fewer teams in my never pick category and many in my tournament team category, which made it a bit tougher. But I inevitably get burned by one of my teams that I never pick after they go on a deep run.

Teams I never pick include Purdue, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Ohio St., Texas and Baylor. My tournament teams, who I always lean on, are North Carolina, Michigan St, Minnesota, West Virginia, Villanova, Wisconsin, Miami, Florida, Arizona, Rhode Island, Temple, Gonzaga, Xavier and Syracuse. Obviously within reason I either pick or don’t pick a team. So say if Purdue is ever a 1 seed, I won’t have them lose in the first round, but I also won’t have them making a deep run. And I won’t have a team like Rhode Island make the Final Four this year.

As for upsets, I don’t have many this year. In the first round I have South Dakota St. over Ohio St., Syracuse over TCU (if you can call Syracuse winning an upset, but rankings wise it technically is an upset). In later rounds I have #10 Providence beating #7 Texas, #7 Nevada over #2 Cincinnati,  #7 Arkansas beating #2 Purdue (one of the teams I never pick), #7 Rhode Island over #2 Duke and #6 Miami over #3 Tennessee.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see #2 Duke lose to #15 Iona, #5 Clemson lose to #12 New Mexico St., #6 Miami lose to #11 Loyola-Chicago or even #3 Texas Tech lose to #13 Stephen F Austin in the first round. Heading into Selection Sunday Loyala-Chicago was going to be one of my upset picks had they not drawn one of my tournament teams. There are inevitably bracket busters out there, but in this year’s tournament I don’t see a big snafu happening like a few years ago when Michigan St. losing to Middle Tennessee St. That was the only time I lost a Final Four team in the first round of the tournament.

I have (in alphabetical order) Michigan St., North Carolina, Villanova and Virginia getting to the Final Four. I then have Virginia and Michigan St. squaring off in the National Championship game and Michigan St. winning the title.


The Movielife is back after 14 years with their fourth studio album; Cities In Search Of A Heart. I was excited when I heard that the band would be releasing a new album, but let me say they should have stayed broken up. It goes to show just how bad the new album is when Brandon Reilly, Vinnie Caruana and the band’s twitter accounts incessantly retweet and favorite crowd videos from their most recent co-headlining tour that are all of older songs off 40 Hour Train Back To Penn.

The band signed with Rise Records, who seem to be yet another label snapping up old scene bands to bolster their roster. I always thought it was odd that a hardcore label went out and signed the likes of Acceptance, At The Drive-In, The Bouncing Souls and Drive-Thru Records castaways The Early November and Hidden In Plain View. Now you can add The Movielife to that list. Rise typically does a lot of variants for their releases, and Cities In Search Of A Heart is no different.

There are six variants, with all of them being exclusive to certain places. First there are the Rise Records/Merchnow (label’s web store host) exclusives. There are two of them; doublemint limited to 700 copies and “ultra” clear with white smoke limited to 300 copies. The “ultra” clear is a bundle exclusive, where the cheapest option to get it cost $37. This $37 bundle had a flask, promo poster (which only had the album artwork on it) and one t-shirt in your choice of two different colors, as each color shirt had the same design. There were two more bundles, which were more expensive. The next tier bundle cost $53.50, and had the same flask and promo poster, and a hoodie (same design as t-shirts) instead of a t-shirt. The most expensive bundle, costing $73, had everything from the $3.507 bundle, but included a t-shirt (only the white shirt out of the options from the $37 bundle).

There is a Smartpunk exclusive; yes Smartpunk is back in business and getting into the vinyl game, pressed on “Easter” yellow limited to 500 copies. Now, there is some discrepancy here, because Smartpunk’s website says “Easter” yellow is limited to 475 copies. The /500 number is straight from Rise Records. What likely happened is they ordered 500, and they either only gave Smartpunk 475 of them to sell or the pressing plant shorted Rise. The Smartpunk exclusive is also individually numbered, on a sticker that is placed on the top left corner on a outer poly sleeve placed over the shrinkwrapped record by Smartpunk. This sticker says /475. Banquet Records (UK indie record store) also has their own exclusive color, which is on oxblood red limited to 500 copies. So it’s not just a UK exclusive, it’s a Banquet exclusive.

It wouldn’t 2017 without a tour variant, and the tour exclusive for this record is limited to 400 copies on baby blue with white swirl (what the band calls it) or A Side B Side – baby blue with white (what the label calls it). Based on photos of the tour exclusive, it’s baby blue with white swirl. The last variant is a retail exclusive on gold vinyl limited to 3,000 copies. Despite the title, the retail exclusive was also available on tour. The “ultra” clear with white smoke was also available on tour as well. The gold “retail” exclusive is actually a gold color. It’s not that weird orange/yellow color labels sometimes get and call “gold.”

Rise Records never released the pressing info for this album. They have a ‘releases’ page where the put the pressing info for all of their releases, sometimes putting them up before an album is even released. But the never did for this Movielife record. I had to email them for the pressing info.

All copies come in a single pocket jacket with an insert and download card. The insert has the lyrics printed on both sides, along with the liner notes taking up a portion of one side. The download code nets you awful 160 kbps MP3s. Ridiculous Rise, ridiculous. Every copy has the same hype sticker, which is s small white circle affixed to the top right corner that simply says “limited edition first pressing on colored vinyl.” It doesn’t indicate color. So in order to ensure what variant you get you have to buy from a certain place. Buying a copy on tour might be a crapshoot though since they’re selling three different variants, not just the tour exclusive.

Retail price on this record ranges greatly. Rise/Merchnow is selling copies for $16.50 before shipping. But indie record stores are selling them for closer to $20. Other online retailers are also closer to $20 as well. I found this from one of my go to online distros, which had it for a few cents more than Merchnow, with free shipping and a discount code I used on it to bring it down to just under $13. Considering how bad this album is, the extremely high amount of copies pressed for this and how the /300 variant is still not sold out, there is no urgency to buy this record. You can wait till the price comes down, because it inevitably will.

If they want to move this album, places selling it will have to mark it down a bit, because it’s clearly not selling well. In fact I probably should’ve waited till the price hit $10. I checked the stock level of the standalone /700 doublemint variant on MerchNow, and they barely sold 150 copies of it in the nine months since it was put up for pre-order at the end of May 2017. Rise severely overestimated the demand for a Movielife album in 2017, even more so when you consider their intentions to do a multiple pressings for it based on the “limited edition first pressing” they put on the hype sticker.

The Movielife – It’s Go Time

Posted: March 8, 2018 in Vinyl
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Back in 2015 The Movielife’s debut album It’s Go Time was pressed on vinyl, released by Fadeaway Records on four variants. Yes, you read right, four variants. Despite the label only making three publicized, there is a fourth variant, which was a tour exclusive. Despite the fact that band was not really touring much at the time. They weren’t even officially re-united at the point when this vinyl re-release came out. And since this is a Fadeaway Records release, that curiosity is not the first misstep with this release.

If you’re familiar with Fadeaway’s Friends triple LP comp released a handful of years ago, many of those same gripes arose with this Movielife re-issue; record being overpriced, shipping being a rip off, another charity release and flat out lies as “explanations” for the aforementioned gripes. This single LP cost $25, before shipping. With shipping being $6 for media mail, and a disgusting $9 to ship two records. It was actually initially doubled up, so for every record you ordered you were charged $6 per record for shipping. If you ordered two copies you were charged $12 shipping, if you ordered all three variants you were charged $15 for shipping.

But before you make final judgment on the price of this record, you have to take into account the etching on the b-side and the fact that it comes in a gatefold jacket. The fact that this record would have an etching was inexplicably kept a secret at the time the pre-order was announced and subsequently went live. It wasn’t announced until about a month after pre-orders were launched. That is by no means an excuse for overcharging for a single LP release, because even with those upgrades no single LP should ever cost more than $20. The price gets even more ludicrous when you consider that Fadeaway owns the rights to this album since they were the ones who originally released it back in 1999. Even with the re-mastering, which has to be done (or at least should be done) for every album that is getting pressed on vinyl, there is no legitimate reason for this record  to cost $25. Charity or not, which was the excuse the label gave, again, for overpricing this record.

I purposely waited, literally years, for this record to see a price cut. But it never happened. I wasn’t holding my breath for it, but I was still hoping that because the label didn’t sell out of any of the variants after three years that he would drop the price. So I used a good chunk of my higher than normal ebates check from Christmas shopping to buy this for a more reasonable price. Technically I could’ve paid $1 for this, but I opted to split the ebates check across two different records in order to lower my out of pocket cost on both of them.

Now to delve into the finer points of this record. This single LP has all nine, yes nine tracks on one side of the record. The b-side has an etching of the original cover art, which was changed for an unknown reason for the vinyl version. An interesting note about the new, alternate cover art for the vinyl version; it is Vinnie jumping off the cliff/bridge (not sure what it is). There was no reason given as to why the artwork was changed. Since I opted to order the clear base variant, it’s next to impossible to get a photo of the etching. So I’m including a photo taken from Fadeaway’s web store of a test pressing.

The gatefold jacket is nice and thick, but doesn’t really have any substance to it. It’s literally a collage of random photos of the band, a picture of a long retired WWF/WWE wrestler and a very long thank you section. But given the price, it’s better to have a pointless gatefold jacket than a traditional single pocket jacket, because Fadeaway would likely charge the same price for it. There is redundancy in the download code/card included with this record, as after you order you receive a download immediately (even those who pre-ordered back in 2015) along with a physical download card inside the jacket.

The track listing for this re-mastered vinyl version of the album was re-arranged for no logical reason. The jacket even has original track listing from the 1999 release printed on the back. The download card/code also has the correct track listing from the original 1999 release. But the record itself has some tracks switched around. So here is the track listing as it actually appears o the record itself:

  1. Barefoot
  2. Champ
  3. Dead To The World
  4. Except Me
  5. Maybe It’s Nothing
  6. One Way Ticket
  7. Racer
  8. Read My Lips
  9. Speed Demon

Track 4 on the original 1999 release was “Speed Demon,” so that song moves to the final track, track 9, on the vinyl version. The original track 9 on the 1999 release was “Racer,” which is track 7 on the vinyl vesion. “Except Me” was track 7 on the original 1999 release, but it’s now track 4 on the vinyl version. Another difference is that track 5 on the original 1999 release was “Read My Lips,” which is now track 8 on the vinyl version. The original track 8 on the 1999 release was “One Way Ticket,” which is now track 6 on the vinyl version. The original track 6 on the 1999 release was “Maybe It’s Nothing,” which moves to track 5 on the vinyl version. “Read My Lips” was track 5 on the original 1999 release, but it moves to track 8 on the vinyl version.

Initially advertised as each variant (the three that were publicly announced and made available) being limited to 250 copies, the actual pressing info was later revealed to be a bit different. It’s one of the few good things about Fadeaway Records; his transparency with pressing info. As is typically the case with vinyl pressings, there is either an overrun or underrun. Your rarely get the exact amount of copies you order. In the case of It’s Go Time, it was all across the board. So here is the final numbers; 256 copies on A Side Easter yellow / B Side cyan blue, 224 copies on ultra clear w/ blood red, orange crush, piss yellow, kelly green, royal blue and deep purple splatter and 242 copies on electric blue w/ cyan blue, sea blue and highlighter yellow heavy splatter. I feel like I am saying this more and more, but those have to be the longest variant names/descriptions ever, especially the ultra clear splatter one. Which I happened to have bought and photos of which can be seen in the gallery below.

It’s also worth noting that none of the variants turned out like the mock ups released for them in the Fadeaway Records web store. Not even close. It’s actually the most far off I’ve ever seen mock ups be from the finished product. It’s like he ordered completely different variants than what he mocked up. He actually had a transparent base record be grey in the mock up. Common sense would tell you to not do that if you were paying any sort of attention. And he had the a-side/b-side variant be black and white in the mock up. But at least he got the “heavy” splatter mock up right in terms of what splatter looks like, though he did use the wrong color for the splatter; once again, grey.

But, as mentioned earlier, that is not all the variants. Those are just the ones that were made publicly available and were announced via the pre-order. There is a fourth variant, which was a “tour” / band exclusive. Considering the band was not really touring at the time of this re-release, they were only playing a handful of shows here and there spread out over a couple months, it’s a little deceptive to call this a tour exclusive. Though the label called it a band exclusive on social media, the band themselves called it a tour exclusive on their social media accounts. While they were only available at shows, there weren’t enough shows to consider it a tour in my book. This tour/band exclusive was pressed on clear with blue haze/smoke, limited to 200 copies. There was never an official announcement as to what the color was called, which would’ve helped as Fadeaway went into extreme detail describing the rest of the variants, right down to the exact shade/hue of a color and using visual descriptions like “piss.” From pictures of this tour variant that I have seen, there is very little blue to be seen. It’s only found around the center of the record, and covers maybe from the run out to the last track on the a-side.

It was briefly mentioned above, but this was yet another charity release by Fadeaway, where it was claimed 100% of the proceeds were donated to a charity. Thing was though at the time pre-orders were launched the charity people’s money was going to wasn’t named. So people had no idea where their money was going. The only thing announced about where the money would be going was that it would be a charity of the band’s choosing. People kept asking what the charity was, but radio silence for a long time on the label’s end. Eventually it was put up in Fadeaway’s web store that the charity chosen was The Lustgarten Foundation. No formal announcement was made regarding the charity chosen. Not even a description of what the charity does; no mention of that anywhere.


Manchester Orchestra’s latest album, A Black Mile To The Surface, is their fifth overall. And yes, you’re right, I’m not including Hope because it’s not a true studio album in my mind, nor am I including Nobody Signs Anymore because it was never officially released. In my opinion A Black Mile To The Surface is better than the band’s previous effort, Cope. I’ve enjoyed each of Manchester Orchestra’s albums, but found Cope to be the worst of them. And I will say I think their music has strayed from my tastes more and more as time has gone on, with each album.

The band has always been strong supporters of the vinyl format, and keeping their albums accessible by not letting them go out of print for too long. A re-press is always on the horizon with them. They have also been no strangers to doing deluxe editions or special box set type releases. Their latest album is no different, as it has a special edition that comes in a hard cover book packaging, deemed a photobook by the band. But what is different this go around is that they did variants for what could be called the standard version. Though the band/label differentiate these variants as “deluxe version” and “standard version.”

There are substantial differences between the deluxe version and standard version. The deluxe version, which is featured here, is pressed on 180 gram smoke colored vinyl (clear with black smoke) and comes housed in an exclusive gatefold jacket with an exclusive insert. Yes, you read that right, only the deluxe version comes in a gatefold jacket and with an insert. The standard version comes in a single pocket jacket and is pressed on 130 gram black vinyl. Both versions come with an etching on the d-side.Because the deluxe version is on clear vinyl, it was tough to get a photo (see gallery below) of the etching, but it’s basically the cover art with the tree and person dangling from it. The deluxe version is $10 more than the standard version. It’s an interesting move by the band/label, to offer a cheaper, but no frills option for fans, and I wonder if more bands and/or labels will follow suit.

I mentioned above that the deluxe cost $10 more than the standard version, so let me clarify. Direct from the band and label (Loma Vista Recordings), the deluxe cost $35 before shipping. And it’s pretty much that price everywhere else selling it as well. The standard version cost $25 direct from the band and label. Though prices on the standard version range greatly by online retailer/brick & mortar store. Both versions are available all over the place; they’re not exclusive to anywhere. But some brick & mortar stores are only choosing to carry one of them, typically the deluxe version. Why I don’t know.

These prices kept me from buying a copy of A Black Mile To The Surface because I found them to be ridiculous. I know the days of $10 single LP’s are long over, and $15 for a single LP seems out of reach now too unfortunately, but I still strive to save money first and foremost these days. My target price is under $15 for a single LP and under $20 for a double LP, and for the most part I can meet those goals by taking advantage of price drops long after an album is released combined with discount/coupon/promo codes. I know I like to brag sometimes about how cheap I score a record for, so I’ll do it again here. I bought the deluxe version of this album for less than half of its original retail price. Only catch was the download card was used and it was an opened used copy with the shrink wrap completely torn off (though the seller did tell me he never played it).

I like to have the hype sticker(s) that come with records for completionist sake, so that was one of the concessions I had to make in order to get this record for so cheap. Personally, what I do with gatefold jackets is slit the shrink down the side to get the records out, take the desired photos, then carefully slide the shrink wrap off the jacket and tuck it inside the gatefold jacket. I’ve gotten so good at it that I don’t tear the shrink in the process, so I have no need to rip it off the jacket in order to see what is printed inside the gatefold. For the record, (no pun intended) I leave the shrink wrap on my single LP’s too. I know it’s taboo, but I haven’t seen any damage from the shrink tightening over time, even on records I’ve owned since new for over 10 years. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never encountered it.

The special edition photobook is similar to the Bad Books II and The Early November – In Currents hard cover/photobooks in terms of packaging. Its 32 pages according to the item description, and the records are pressed on gold vinyl. Though the “gold” vinyl looks more like the typical yellow/orange shade that many records advertised as being on “gold” vinyl actually come out looking like. To be clear, this does not look like the first pressing of Fall Out Boy’s From Under The Cork Tree but looks more like the orange/yellow variant of the debut self-titled Bad Books album or the gold variant of Saves The Day’s Anywhere With You 7”.

The band offered a special bundle for the photobook that included an exclusive t-shirt and “The Sunnshine” music box. I’m assuming the music box plays the song “The Sunshine.” This bundle cost $80 before shipping, and according to what some people said on message boards, shipping was around $30. This bundle was initially the only way to get the photobook, and it sold out relatively quickly. But the label did put up copies of the photobook individually, without the shirt or music box, at some point after the bundle sold out.

There was some shadiness on Loma Vista’s part with this photobook version though, as initially they were selling it for $50, but than inexplicably they jacked up the price to $60. This price jump corresponded to the album’s release date though, as it increased after it was released. But I don’t think the label’s web store said the $50 price was a limited time offer or special pre-sale/pre-order price. It’s the reason why I haven’t bought it yet.

After reading this you may be surprised to see Manchester Orchestra associated with a label other than their own; Favorite Gentlemen. While Favorite Gentlemen is still associated with this, and one side of the record has their familiar stock center labels, the band did partner with Loma Vista for this album. I’m not sure why, and can’t find any press release about the band signing with them.

Because I do not have the two stickers placed on the shrink wrap of the deluxe version, I’ve included photos I found of them elsewhere online (hence no watermarks) in the gallery below. The bar code sticker does list the variant color, and the hype sticker says it’s the deluxe version and that it’s on 180 gram vinyl. The hype sticker found on the standard version makes no mention of standard or deluxe, but does say 130 gram vinyl on if as if that is something worthwhile (it isn’t).