AOpen AW744 Pro

My favourite ever PC soundcard was the Yamaha SW60 XG. I bought one in 1995 and was immediately seduced by the hardware XG synth built into the slim darling. I loved the crispness of the XG sounds. Back then, they were the cleanest synth sounds I had access to. I even did a whole track on my second album purely using the soundcard (the American Sitcom instrumental).
 
Then, I moved into the Macintosh music world, leaving behind the vagaries of IRQs, DMAs and bizarrely non-repeating fatal errors.
 
Last year I dipped a toe back into PC waters. I bought a system, thinking that PC tech must have improved so much that the soundcards I could buy would be brilliant. But I was wrong.
 
The major thing that contemporary PC soundcards are based around is providing multi-channel cinema sound. The MIDI synth capabilities seem to be left far behind in the race for immersive game sound environments. I was appalled that most soundcards used bloody wavetable softsynths for their MIDI sound generation.
 
I’ve always hated these implementations. I don’t know why because they should, ostensibly, sound as good or better as hardware synths since they’re sample based. But every non-hardware PC soundcard synth I’ve heard sounds terrible. They have this kind of hazy, slow sound to them. The transients on drumkits are dull and muffled. The pianos don’t breathe at all, every sound is glassy and unconvincing.
 
That’s why I was so pleased to discover this soundcard, reviewed in a PC Pro article. I had been about to bite the bullet and fork out for a Yamaha SW1000XG, purely for it’s XG facilities. But I’d been hesitating because all I wanted to do with the soundcard was listen to crappy XG midi files off the net and do the occasional, non-professional tinkling. And over £400 is a lot to pay just for that.
 
Then the AW744 Pro appeared and saved my bacon. It costs £19, has a beautiful little hardware synth on board and, amazingly, even has an optical SP/DIF output on it. Now that’s progress! It’s even better than the old SW60XG because, if I remember correctly, you couldn’t route the SW60’s XG sounds to its coaxial digi out, only wave audio. With the AOpen card, you’ve got choices about what goes where. Amazing!
 
So, if you enjoy listening to terrible XG MIDI files as much as I do, may I humbly recommend the AOpen AW744 Pro. It makes even the worst of versions into pootling little masterpieces.

The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic


(Mint Records MRD 043)

Newsgroups: uk.music.alternative Date: Sun, 04 Mar 2001 18:51:31 +0000 Organization: Bzangy Groink

Again, this was a total impulse buy based on a quick listen in Soundclash. The first track, ‘Mass Romantic’, hooked me right away. A fast, shuffly beat coupled with clipped rhythm guitar and then Neko Case‘s wonderful warbling comes in. It’s *so* absolutely poppy and catchy and the chorus makes me yell along, way out of tune. It’s unashamedly power pop and I guess it sounds so strange to me cos it’s nothing like current British schmindie.

But then, why should a bunch of Canadians (and the Yankee Case) sound like all the dreary, whiney bands that clog up Lamaq? There’s so much sparkle and ambition on this album.

The next track, ‘The Fake Headlines’, starts off all acousticy and then kicks in with a swagger that reminds me a bit of Phasehifter-era Red Kross. Again, it’s a commanding, eclectic slice of pop. It just has this *sound* I can’t quite describe that’s so un-English. I think it might be a guitar band actually having *fun.* Do you remember fun?

‘The Slow Descent Into Alchoholism’ is like some distant cousin of the Wonderstuff‘s ‘Size Of A Cow’ crossed with prime Posies. And I’m also guessing that these peeps are Todd Rundgren fans. Yay!

This CD sounds strange to me cos it’s so unlike most Brit guitar music around. I honestly can’t think of one UK band that approaches the New Pornographers flair, crazed inventiveness and sheer we-just-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-the-indie-rules twatting about.

Perhaps the closest I can get is some of the older Australian and New Zealand indie bands, the kind of people you’d find doing excellent pop on Flying Nun comps. And yes, on songs like ‘Jackie’ you can hear echoes of The Chills or Sneaky Feelings.

Bear in mind that although they have some defiantly retro elements, this isn’t a retro record. When you hear Neko belting out ‘Letter From An Occupant’, you know *when* you are, it’s just *where* you are that remains fuzzy. And what a great, leaping voice she’s got. You need a big, energetic voice like that to sit on top of the often frantic backing.

The start of ‘The Body Says No’ could be a Divine Comedy song but then it vaults off in a far more Big Star direction. Great slabs of powerpop guitar slam in for the chorus and, once again, I find myself doing very questionable ’70s falsetto harmonies. Which is a *good thing.*

Contemporaries? Well, like I said, I don’t think there are any UK bands. ‘Execution Day’ could be a Komeda song, with it’s freaky harmonies and instrumentation, but overall it’s far more glam than Komeda’s post-punk pop.

I do have the feeling that if they’d grown up in Scotland, they’d now be mates with TFC, even if their powerpop influences have obviously taken them to different destinations.

I like this album. It’s not my top current guitar album cos Sludgefeast have still got that sewn up.

But…

It’s *different.* There’s so much grey, washed-out, drab whingey music about that putting this CD on is like a little ray of poppy sunshine. It’s like a CD from an alternate universe where making happy guitar music hasn’t been outlawed. It rocks!

Buy this CD if you’ve ever, ever sung along to Queen, The Cars, Badfinger, Neil Young or the theme from Game On.

Don’t buy it if you’re feeling a bit miserable and mopey and want to stay that way…

love and kisses, Jyoti