new year… goin’ through the vinyl… hidden gems… and an inadvertent review of boston’s “third stage” album, 30 years after the fact…

Happy 2016!

Early morning on the slopes at Copper Mtn.
Early morning on the slopes at Copper Mtn.

I hope your new year has gotten off to an excellent start, ten days in. Wishing you all the best and let’s keep the good stuff going all through this year.

Brrrrrrrrrrrr...
Brrrrrr… Yeah, it was a tad nippy up at Copper 01/01/16

With the release of the new EP/album Unearthly the last week of 2015 – and now available for download on CD Baby and iTunes, streaming through Apple Music, Tidal, et al. – it’s time for a little break… replenish the well so to speak.

Which means skiing on New Year’s Day and more skiing for the first 3 months here, and also the first major project of the new year. The one I’ve been putting off for 9 months since I brought all the LPs up from Dallas. The one called “going through the record collection”, as in vinyl, and it looks like this…

Rob (John Cusack) going through his ginormous record collection... from the film "High Fidelity" (2000).
Rob (John Cusack) going through his ginormous record collection… from the film “High Fidelity” (2000). In the movie, Rob owns Championship Vinyl, a record store, and yeah, this is pretty much me – a vinyl nerd, though not a vinyl fanatic (yes, there is a difference). I see Brian Eno’s “Before and After Science” there on top…

I realize this is a very age-specific thing here, although, believe it or not, vinyl records are making a comeback now. But if you’ve grown up with just downloading or streaming, you might ask: why even bother with these relics? Well, I love the vinyl/LP format… that’s what it really comes down to. That and the quality of sound from a clean copy (no pops, scratches, static, etc.). I love the CD format as well. Here’s an interesting little infographic I found out there on the web…

Recorded music formats through the years, 1980-2009...
Recorded music formats through the years, 1980-2010… What I find fascinating about this is how long the cassette tape format lasted, how long it endured… right up until 2004 and then, poof – it’s gone. Cassettes were actually more popular than CDs until 1991. And also note something of a resurgence in vinyl from 2008-2010. A trend that has only continued since then… Kind of mesmerizing to watch.

And it’s not that I don’t want to go through most of these records and listen to them again. On the contrary, it’s just that, that is the problem in and of itself: I will end up listening to many (most) of them and the process of going through them will take at least twice as long. And after a week of this, that is exactly what has happened.

Styx! "Suite Madame Blue" is on this one...
Styx! “Suite Madame Blue” is on this one…

The overwhelming majority of these vinyl record albums come from the inventory of my former, and currently defunct, art gallery/record store, Excellent Sky Gallery & Empire Records (2003-2007) in the small mountain town of Empire, Colorado, 36 miles west of Denver. The rest are from my own personal collection over the years. I had thousands of records in the store at one time; I still have quite a few left… and as I started to go through them I was surprised by how many I have that are still unopened, 8 1/2  years after the gallery closed and decades since those albums were first released. I had completely forgotten.

So I’ve been listening to these artifacts (relics) all this week… and right now. I’ll let the character Rob, from High Fidelity – who’s something of a hero to me – explain:

books-matter-high-fidelityRob is the main character from the film which comes from the book, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and if you loved the movie, check out the book as well – it’s a good read. Sifting through the unopened albums, I come across these gems:

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - back cover from Hard Promises (1981)
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – back cover from Hard Promises (1981)

ZZ Top – “Eliminator” and the follow-up, “Afterburner” from the mid-1980’s (and for some odd reason I have 4 copies of their album  “Fandango” and they are well-played).
U2 – “The Joshua Tree”, from 1987… that weird time when the music industry was switching from vinyl to the next big thing – CDs.
Sting – “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”, his first solo album from 1985 – features the hit “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Russians”…
Patti Smith – “Horses”, still unopened, though I suspect not for long.
Shoes – one of my favorite power-pop bands from Zion, Illinois and their album “Tongue Twister” from 1981…
Prince’s “1999”, unopened…
The Pretenders’ 1st album from 1980…
and, OMG… Paris “Big Towne, 2061” – Bob Welch’s band between Fleetwood Mac and his solo career.
And on and on it goes…

Record sleeve, Times Square soundtrack (1980)
Record sleeve, Times Square soundtrack (1980)

OK, so I’m working backwards through the alphabet here; continuing on I find surprisingly clean copies of Three Dog Night’s “Suitable For Framing” and “Harmony” (and one very embarrassing, politically incorrect – by today’s standards – inner gatefold photo of the band)… 4 copies of Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (?), and even the more obscure albums like the “Times Square” soundtrack (from the equally obscure 1980 film) play quite well after all these years… and, Head East! And here I think of the old RIAA “this record will never become obsolete” notification on the back of the early Beatles’ albums.

From 1986, Boston's 3rd album, "Third Stage"
From 1986, Boston’s 3rd album, “Third Stage”

Eventually I come to Boston. “More Than a Feeling” Boston. Their album, “Third Stage” from 1986. 8 years after their previous album “Don’t Look Back”, which was their 2nd album. 8 years between albums is a mighty long time, especially back then. I’d never heard the album in its entirety, just the two hits – “Amanda” and “We’re Ready” – and it’s unopened. So yeah, it’s time to open it, give it a spin…

Nazz Nazz, their 2nd (and best) album from 1969... with original in-store labeling!
Nazz Nazz, their 2nd (and best) album from 1969… with original in-store labeling!

Standard operating procedure dictates that when you open a vinyl record album and put it on the turntable the very first time – its maiden voyage – you burn a copy onto another format. From the 1970’s through the mid-90’s the blank cassette tape – usually from Maxell – was the de facto choice for this. Then later in the 90’s, it was on CD, CD-R. And when you had burned a copy, you put the vinyl record back in its sleeve and never, ever took it out of its sleeve again, for any reason. Under any circumstances…  unless/until of course the tape got jammed up or the CD started skipping…

Craig demonstrating the proper technique in handling vinyl...
Craig demonstrating the proper technique in handling vinyl…. Hey, this is important! – I’m not kidding!

This is how you make your vinyl last – treat it gently, treat it kindly, and it will reward you with years of ‘high-fidelity’.

Had imports too, because as a used record store, that's what you do.
Had imports too, because as a used record store, that’s what you do.

So, back to Boston… I’ve been listening to this album most of this past week – now burned on CD-R of course – revisiting 1986, which in the Boston/Tom Scholz universe sounds very much like 1978. Which is to say they picked up where they left off and I kinda love it, as it takes me back to that time of their heyday when I was in undergraduate school in the late ’70s. That trademark layered guitar wall-of-sound that can level tall buildings if you would only crank it up high enough is still in effect on “Third Stage”, and it’s a great-sounding album. Great-sounding now, again by today’s standards, and I’m sure this was even more awesome back in 1986. I’ve got the two sets of oversized speakers so I’m crankin’ it; Erin comes down to the basement and says, “You’re like a teenage boy in the basement!…” and I’m like, “So, what’s your point, Shmoopy?”

And so she sits down and listens to the album with me…

Inner sleeve from Boston's "Third Stage" album (1986)... the pipe organ pipes.
Inner gatefold photo from Boston’s “Third Stage” album (1986)… the pipe organ pipes.

Like I said, 8 years is a long time to go between albums and as it took 6 years to record “Third Stage”, according to the liner notes, it seems that the rest of the original band drifted off to other things ’cause only Tom and the late lead singer Brad Delp appear here. Have to say I think this is their best album, even more than their impactful debut album from 1976. This in spite of the fact that the guitar riff from “I Think I Like It” is a lift of a riff from Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” (it is, listen to it). Tom, what were you thinking? Dude, you graduated from M.I.T. – you know better. Also very interesting is the pipe organ pipe motif in the album artwork – it’s in the body of the spaceship on the cover and then on the inside sleeve photo, dimly lit in red light. Real curious about that – would like to hear the story, as I have more than a passing familiarity with pipe organs. Just sayin’…

Mmmm, yum... Now doesn't that enchilada plate look good? From the inside sleeve photo on ZZ Top's "Tres Hombres" album (1973). I'm assuming this feast came from Leo's on N. Shepherd in Houston, TX.
Mmmm, yum… Now doesn’t that enchilada plate look good? From the inside gatefold photo on ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” album (1973). I’m assuming this feast came from Leo’s on N. Shepherd in Houston, TX. This… this is what you miss by not having artwork that you can actually see on a vinyl record album. Enchiladas!
Prince, "1999" from 1982
Prince, “1999” from 1982

Well, it has been fun this past week re-discovering, re-acquainting myself with the old record inventory, and the fun will continue until I’m done consolidating… as in the meantime I find 3 very good (+) to excellent copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”. If you’re a vinyl LP aficionado you know the scoring system:
M – Mint (unopened, unplayed)
NM – Near Mint
EX – Excellent
VG+ – Very Good plus, but not excellent
VG – Very good
G – Acceptable… and I never took anything below this in the record store, because if I played it and couldn’t listen to it – excessive pops, scratches, static, whatever – I wouldn’t sell it.

Which is my way of saying I hope to re-open the gallery/record store at some point in the future, back up in the mountains… preferably sooner than later. I’m making plans to paint again in 2016 after a 6-year hiatus, along with continuing the recorded work I’m doing in Nights on Venus. Full-length album this year, possibly by August…

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, the new 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Summit selfie... Mt. Flora, October, 2015
Summit selfie… Mt. Flora, October, 2015

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

merry christmas… “unearthly” EP releases this week…

First of all, Merry Christmas to Everyone, wherever you may be!
And Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men…”

christmas_2015

Peace and goodwill… two things we need a lot more of in this world after what has been a very tumultuous year in 2015. I wish those two things for everyone, as well as joy and happiness and prosperity – having enough and not being in lack – and hope, not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year, every year as we move into 2016 and beyond.

Oh, I left out kindness. We need a lot more of that as well, especially here in the states… (some people have forgotten what this actually is).

kindness

Unearthly, the 2nd EP from Nights on Venus this year, releases officially on 12/30, but it is available now on Bandcamp as a FREE download. The entire album… or as much as you want (individual tracks are free as well). From now through 12/29

So here it ’tis…

To download the album: click on the Unearthly – EP link, listen, check it out, and click Buy Now; enter “0” in the name your price box, then click the Download Now button… and away you go.
And I hope you enjoy it!

For those of you out there who have been following Nights on Venus for a while and/or listening and downloading the music, this is just my way of saying thank you for supporting my efforts these first 5 years of Nights on Venus.

And now that Christmas is upon us, there will be much cooking taking place here at La Casa NoV today and tomorrow. There will be “It’s a Wonderful Life” and 24 hours of Ralphie (“A Christmas Story”) on the tele – I love ’em. There’s snow on the ground here (and I predict it will be here until April – strong El Nino).  It’s going to be cold this weekend and we’ll have the fireplace on.

No, I have not forgotten what this season is about… It is about Light coming into the world at a time when it is needed the most.

Nights on Venus will be back with new music in 2016 – a full-length album probably around late July/August…

Merry Christmas and  Happy New Year to all!

snowy_xmas

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, the 6-song EP will be released on December 30th, but is available now on Bandcamp as a free download until 12/29.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Summit selfie... Mt. Flora, October, 2015
Summit selfie… Mt. Flora, October, 2015

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

final mixdowns and a couple more previews from “unearthly”…

I’m currently putting finishing touches on the last of the songs for “Unearthly” and wanted to post a couple of them here before they go off to mastering in the next week or so. In the song sequence, these two close out the album/EP which releases on December 30th. Again, mastered demos here; there will be some differences in the final mastered versions as always. Brian Hazard at Resonance Mastering will be doing the mastering once again.

5. PAST THE TIPPING POINT
(© 2015 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

6. WE MOVE OFF TOGETHER
(© 2015 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

The 6-song EP will be available for friends and fans of Nights on Venus before the 30th with at least 3 songs available as free downloads. Check back for details as we get closer to the release date.

The tempo has picked up this last month or so as we move into the holiday season and start to close out 2015. Happy Thanksgiving! to everyone and I hope you have an awesome day tomorrow with friends and family. May your holiday be completely free of any political discussions with the fam; if not, there’s always Adele.

Hiking in Apex Open Space...
Hiking in Apex Open Space…
Fog and trees in the Enchanted Forest, top of Apex...
Fog and trees in the Enchanted Forest, top of Apex…

The forecast here for tomorrow is calling for about 3-5 inches o’ snow (now updated to 5-10 inches), which is always welcome this early in the season… until it’s not (usually near the end of April). Here are a few pictures from recent hikes this month near Golden…

Looking north from the Argos Trail toward Golden and beyond to Boulder and the Flatirons...
Looking north from the Argos Trail toward Golden and beyond to Boulder and the Flatirons…
High above Golden...
High above Golden…
Denver to the east...
Denver to the east…
apex_1107_03
Toward the top of Indian Mountain…
Heading back down...
Heading back down…
Nights on Venus, "Santos"... July, 2015
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… July, 2015
Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Santos, a 4-song EP was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3. The new EP, “Unearthly” arrives on December 30, 2015. In the meantime…

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Summit selfie... Mt. Flora, October, 2015
Summit selfie… Mt. Flora, October, 2015

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

new song: “unearthly”, album cover artwork, hiking up mt. flora…

The EP/album “Unearthly” is coming together, with a release date set for late December. Today, the cover artwork for the new album:

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for the new EP “Unearthly”… Photo/design by CCT.

And a preview of the mastered demo of the title track…

UNEARTHLY
(© 2015 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

The track list and sequencing has been finalized… 6 new songs, and they are:

  1. Porn Stars Stole My Subaru
  2. Unearthly
  3. Lightning Trees
  4. All Become One
  5. Past the Tipping Point
  6. We Move Off Together

I’ll be finishing up pre-mastering on “Lightning Trees” next and plan on putting up the mastered demo version by the end of this month.

Today in Golden we are getting some much-needed rain. Except for only two or three days of some kind of rain, it has been bone dry in the Front Range since the 3rd week of July (as the pics below taken yesterday in the high country will attest to). For the last few years the seasons have been shifting to later in the year by about a month here in Colorado but with rain and snow forecast for this week we now appear to be fully into autumn (and it’s about time!). Cooler weather ahead… yay!

The trailhead to Mt. Flora. This is up above the old Berthoud Pass ski area and the signage is incorrect. It's actually 2.5 miles from this point to the summit of Mt. Flora.
The trailhead to Mt. Flora. This is up above the old Berthoud Pass ski area and the signage is incorrect. It’s actually 2.5 miles from this point to the summit of Mt. Flora.

Nights on Venus began its 6th year of existence on the 8th this month, we celebrated my 59th birthday this past weekend, and Erin’s birthday is coming up next Sunday, the 25th. We love October! Pics of this weekend’s hike up Mt. Flora (13,132 ft.) on the Continental Divide follow…

Getting an early start as always... Erin on the trail.
Getting an early start as always… Erin on the trail.
Above timberline... it's a different world.
Above timberline… it’s a different world.
Higher up and about halfway there. Colorado Mines Peak, with all the weather/seismic housings, is on the right.
Higher up and about halfway there. Colorado Mines Peak, with all the weather/seismic housings, is on the right.
Onward and upward...
Onward and upward… Back in 2000-’01 I worked quite a bit on this segment of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) up to the summit, in finishing the new trail, at the time, and maintenance.
Looking south toward Grays and Torreys Peak, two 14-ers, in the center. Engelmann Peak is to the right...
Looking south toward Grays and Torreys Peak, two 14-ers, in the center. Engelmann Peak is to the right…
On the summit of Mt. Flora, looking toward the southeast, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt, also 14-ers, in the distance. Hadn't been up here for 10 years so it was good to be back.
On the summit of Mt. Flora, looking toward the southeast, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt, also 14-ers, in the distance. Hadn’t been up here for 10 years so it was good to be back.
Erin o' the Tundra... Her first 13-er!
Erin o’ the Tundra… a little chilly and windy up here. Her first 13-er!
Coming down off the summit looking to the north toward Winter Park and the Fraser Valley. A few ski runs at Mary Jane can be seen on the left. Note that there is no snow to be seen anywhere... and that ain't right. In years past, A-Basin and Loveland ski areas would duke it out to see who opened first for the ski season... in mid-October. Both ski areas have pushed back their opening dates for the 2nd year in a row. Further evidence of global warming/climate change.
Coming down off the summit looking to the north toward Winter Park and the Fraser Valley. A few ski runs at Mary Jane can be seen on the left. Note that there is no snow to be seen anywhere… and that ain’t right. There should be snow everywhere. In years past, nearby A-Basin and Loveland ski areas would duke it out to see who opened first for the ski season… in mid-October. Both ski areas have pushed back their opening dates for the 3rd year in a row. Further evidence of global warming/climate change.
Heading back down...
Heading back down…
"Two Against Nature" - Our re-enactment of Steely Dan's album cover from 2000, at high altutude...
“Two Against Nature” – Our re-enactment of Steely Dan’s album cover from 2000, at high altutude…
Summit selfie...
Summit selfie with rock cairn… safer than bison.

Santos“, a 4-song EP was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3. The new EP, “Unearthly” to arrive late December, 2015. In the meantime…

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released July 8, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… released on July 8, 2015…
"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos“, “Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

photo essay: fall color in the rockies, 2015…

Erin, stylin' on the trail...
Erin, stylin’ on the trail…
Sign at the trailhead...
Sign at the trailhead…

It’s that time of year again here in Colorado… that time when fall has come and we head to the high country to view the annual extravaganza of the aspen leaves turning bright yellow, gold, and orange against a backdrop of the dark green of the evergreens and purplish mountains and a deep blue cloudless sky. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you know it’s a yearly thing we do. We’ve finally reached fall – favorite time of the year – and the temperatures are also finally getting cooler as we head toward winter. This year Erin and I combined our customary drives with a lot more hiking – last week Chief Mountain, this week on the other side of the divide, on the Western Slope.

Hiking on the Lenawee Trail, Summit County, Colorado.
Hiking on the Lenawee Trail, Summit County near Montezuma and Keystone, Colorado.
On the trail, early morning...
On the trail, early morning…
Climbing upwards through a shorter aspen forest...
Climbing upwards through a shorter aspen forest…
And looking back down the trail we've hiked so far...
And looking back down the trail we’ve hiked so far… This one is a bit surreal, the leaves like little flecks of gold rising up into the sky.

aspens4

aspens2

aspens8

The aspen forest on the Lenawee Trail... We missed the peak color here by about a week. There were many leaves on the trail at 10,600 feet...
The aspen forest on the Lenawee Trail… We missed the peak color here by about a week. There were many leaves on the ground already at 10,600 feet…

aspens5

aspens6

The town of Montezuma from the Lenawee Trail...
The town of Montezuma from the Lenawee Trail…

lenawee9Eventually you leave the aspens after about the first mile-and-a-quarter of the trail. The Lenawee Trail itself is steep for the first 2.25 miles, then levels off a little bit after that to its crest at about 12,850 feet on a saddle on the backside of the A-Basin Ski Area off of US Hwy. 6, down from Loveland Pass toward Keystone. We didn’t go all the way to the top this time… maybe next time. Coming down it seemed surprisingly warm for this time of year and there was no snow on the surrounding mountains; it has been very dry for the last month-and-a-half. As ski season is supposed to begin in 3 weeks at A-Basin and Loveland, I would imagine the snow-making machines will be working overtime from now through then.

Looking west down the valley toward Keystone and Dillon...
Looking west down the valley toward Keystone and Dillon…

aspens1

aspens_11

Nights on Venus News:
Currently finishing up on the song “Lightning Trees” which makes 4 songs complete with more in the queue for Unearthly; I’m thinking this EP/album will be either 6 or 8 songs to be released at the end of 2015 or early 2016. Here is a mastered demo from the forthcoming album, the song, “All Become One”… another song to follow in the coming weeks.

ALL BECOME ONE
(© 2015 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

Santos“, a 4-song EP was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released July 8, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… released on July 8, 2015…
"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

photo essay: hiking up chief mountain…

The start of the trail just off the road...
The start of the trail just off the road…

This week’s hike was fairly close to home: Chief Mountain on Squaw Pass Road (CO Hwy. 103) between Evergreen and Echo Lake. It’s a good short hike, 2 miles out and back, 4 miles total, through Subalpine forest that takes you to a summit at timberline with fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding area. As it is fall now and the aspen leaves are turning their vibrant yellows and the Squaw Pass Road is the route we usually take on the fall leaf tour, it seemed like an ideal way to get some hiking in, combining it with the drive through the high country.

Early morning light on the trail...
Early morning light on the trail…
Looking east to Squaw Mountain...
Looking east to Squaw Mountain…
Getting a little higher up on the trail, first full view of the Continental Divide from Colorado Mines Peak/Mt. Flora over to James Peak. Not much snow left after summer but that will change soon. Winter is coming.
Getting a little higher up on the trail, first full view of the Continental Divide. From left to right:  Colorado Mines Peak, Mt. Flora, Mt. Eva, Parry Peak, Mt. Bancroft to James Peak, the tall flat one at right center. Not much snow left after summer but that will change soon. Winter is coming.
Facing west... patches of fall color on the mountainsides...
Facing west… patches of fall color on the mountainsides…

Well first off it’s a perfect day for hiking. It’s a little hazy back toward Denver but not too bad – otherwise a beautiful blue, cloudless sky. The Chief Mountain trail starts off at an elevation of 10,700 feet and you’re hiking to the summit at 11,709 feet. Erin and I are on the trail a little after 7:30; it’s a nice brisk 37 degrees and by the time we’re back down it’ll be about 50.

Further up the trail, looking back down the valley to the town of Idaho Springs on I-70...
Further up the trail, looking back down the valley to the town of Idaho Springs on I-70…
Gettin' there... the view to the east...
Gettin’ there… the trail and the view to the east…
And our first view of the summit. We're at about 11,200 ft. here...
And our first view of the summit. We’re at about 11,200 ft. here…
Hiking into the sun...
Hiking into the sun…
About 300 yards from the top...
About 300 yards from the top…
Erin, before the last bit of bouldering to reach the summit with Mt. Evans in the background...
Erin, before the last bit of bouldering to reach the summit with Mt. Evans in the background…
Looking to the southeast, back toward Evergreen and the plains beyond...
Looking to the southeast, back toward Evergreen and the plains beyond…

Although the trail is uphill all the way – after all, you are hiking up a mountain – it’s a gentle uphill, and if you’ve hiked at all you know what I mean. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles which can be easily done in an hour to an hour-and-a-half with a little bit of bouldering at the very end.

And we're there... Sittin' on top of our own little world. Looking south, the tall peak is Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs.
And we’re there… Sittin’ on top of our own little world. Looking south, the tall peak off in the distance is Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs.
Yours truly on the summit... Lookin' a little scruffy on a Saturday morning, but hey, it's the weekend!
Yours truly on the summit… Lookin’ a little scruffy on a Saturday morning, but hey, it’s the weekend and we’re hiking…
Looking west, Mt. Evans is on the left and the two taller peaks to the right are Grays Peak and Torreys. Squaw Pass Road snakes through the forest and eventually reaches Echo Lake.
Looking west, Mt. Evans is on the left and the two taller peaks to the right are Grays Peak and Torreys. Squaw Pass Road snakes through the forest and eventually reaches Echo Lake.

So we spend about half-an-hour on the summit, eat some snacks and just soak it all in. A few people join us on the summit – it’s still early in the day and there are not a whole lot of hikers on this trail which is heavily used during the summer months. It’s just good to be up here and enjoy the quiet and peace… and of course, the views. No mountain goats today – they’re elsewhere.

To the immediate west, Mt. Evans, a 14er, with the highest auto road in North America...
To the immediate west, Mt. Evans, a 14er, with the highest auto road in North America…
And looking to the north... The tall mountain on the right is Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park...
And looking to the north… The tall mountain on the right is Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park…
Heading back down...
Heading back down…
Though not as many as at the Mt. Goliath area on the Mt. Evans road,there are some Bristlecone pines along the way. Ancient trees that have been shaped by the wind. This one caught my eye. Bend... but don't break...
Though not as numerous as at the Mt. Goliath area on the way up the Mt. Evans road,there are some Bristlecone pines along the way on this hike. Ancient trees that have been shaped by the wind. This one caught my eye. Bend… but don’t break…
Bristlecone pine, up close and personal...
Bristlecone pine, up close and personal…

To reach the Chief Mountain trail, take I-70 west out of Denver and exit on Evergreen Parkway (Exit 252). Go approximately 3 miles to CO Hwy. 103 and take a right. This is the Squaw Pass Road. Go approximately 9 miles up Hwy. 103 and when you reach the Echo Mountain Ski Area you’ll see a long shoulder on the right side of the road. The trailhead begins a little to the east of where the ski lift and the parking area on the shoulder is.

Coming from Idaho Springs, take CO Hwy. 103 to the south, go past Echo Lake approximately 4.5 miles and you’ll see the shoulder above the Echo Mountain ski lift on the left side of the road.

As always in the high country, get there early, take plenty of water, and dress in layers. And now, a little fall color…

Aspens in full color, heading toward Echo Lake...
Aspens in full color, heading toward Echo Lake…
And some more... This next week should be peak color.
And some more… This next week should be peak color.
Cyclists on the Squaw Pass Rd. near Echo Lake with fall color...
Cyclists on the Squaw Pass Rd. near Echo Lake with fall color…

We drive into Idaho Springs after our morning hike and have beer and lunch (in that order) at Tommyknockers on Miner Street. Get there early too – the place is packed by 12:30 even now that tourist season is over. The Pumpkin Ale is available, now that it’s fall and in the season, and their Imperial Nut Brown Ale is excellent as are all their offerings.

Work progresses on the next Nights on Venus EP/album Unearthly. Until then…

The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released July 8, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… released on July 8, 2015…
"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

 

LANDR – automated online mastering… a review

If you’re involved in music creation/production, promoting your own music, have your music on iTunes, Apple Music, SoundCloud and other streaming platforms, and maintain a social media presence, you’ve probably been seeing a fair amount of ads in your news feed for LANDR, an online music mastering service. LANDR is a subscription service that bills itself as “Professional Audio Mastering (at a fraction of the cost of studio mastering)” where you can  “Master tracks. Instantly.”

I had planned to take a test drive just to see what the results would be – which I did, with a new partially-unfinished song – and write a review here in the blog, but thanks to Mr. Ian Shepherd and his video, now I don’t have to! He’s already done that and I think his review and recommendations are totally spot on. If you’ve been considering using LANDR, please watch and, most importantly, listen to the video below:

Granted, the video is from a year ago and several commenters have said that LANDR has updated and improved their algorithm and software, but I think his initial reservations and concerns do hold true, plus I’ll add a few of my own here.

  1. Mastering recorded music is an art form in and of itself… And for that you need human ears and a certain sensibility, sensitivity that is never going to be replaced by a computer program or algorithm, no matter how sophisticated or customizable that program becomes (A.I. notwithstanding… but even then it’s artificial intelligence). Particularly, as Ian says in the video, when it comes to mastering songs in relation to the other songs that will comprise an entire album. That’s huge and that can’t be done by a computer.
  2. The old adage “You get what you pay for” applies here… Meaning you should never skimp on presenting your music in its best possible light. While you will get instant results with LANDR, those will not necessarily be the best in the long run. For that you need a true music mastering professional, especially if they are a musician themselves. Words and phrases like “instant” and “at a fraction of the cost” may sound enticing but resist the instant gratification factor and the need to try to cut costs. Your music deserves to be great for the long haul… right? Always, always, always buy the best quality you can afford; this applies equally as well to your instruments and recording software/studio time as much as mastering.
  3. The point of using any technology is to enhance what you’re trying to express creatively, not be subservient to it… Yeah, I’ve been saying this one since the Yamaha DX7 keyboard came out… i.e., back in the 80’s, but it applies here. Technology should always be used judiciously to create/achieve certain effects, not applied arbitrarily or as an end in itself (autotune immediately comes to mind). That involves creative decision-making… by a human bein’ with a soul and a heartbeat (and a great set of ears). Ideally, if we use a certain technology, we should humanize it. One size fits all doesn’t cut it, nor do customizable templates. I agree with Ian here as well – the very rudimentary home mastering I did on my song I felt was better than the best automated mastered version of it on LANDR, but then I am biased because I’ve lived with my ears for 58 years, I’m kind of attached to ’em, and I tend to trust ’em. And yes, it really is all about the sound.
  4. You can’t automate “art”… and audio mastering is an art. Meaning it’s inexact, imprecise, and subjective. And as such it’s “perfect” (there’s a reason the Navajo leave a flaw or two in their woven rugs).
  5. Not everything needs to be loud… a.k.a. the loudness wars and the battle for the listener’s attention (see Donald Trump)…

Now, having said all this, where LANDR can be useful:

Because you do get instant results, it can be helpful in generating ideas for your mix that you might not have considered. You may hear something that can be highlighted that will make your mix better. Also, you can pinpoint any flaws in the mix, anything that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb (e.g…. cymbals!), and also identify any instruments/vocals that may have been recorded too hot where you’re getting some distortion that may not have been immediately apparent in the mix.

Because of the speed and convenience of it, you could record something at a live show, do the quick and dirty online mastering on it, and make it immediately available to fans or for listening and critiquing at your next band rehearsal. I could also see situations where you have a possible last-minute gig come up and need to shoot something over to a venue quickly. It happens.

Really though, every benefit I can think of with LANDR has to do with speed and convenience, not the actual sound. I think LANDR can be a useful tool in getting your music eventually where you want it to go and I think they do provide a good service, but let’s be clear: it is not true professional audio mastering. I personally would never use it on a finished album. For that you need a true mastering professional with a great set of ears.

The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released July 8, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… released on July 8, 2015…
"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.