Weird New Pop, Vol.4

Photo: Stephen Mejias. Design: Todd Steponick, Nice Looking Designs

Track 16

How we listen goes hand in hand with how we live. For that reason alone, the act of listening to music through a hi-fi represents a certain lifestyle, and the products used to pursue that particular pleasure can be described as lifestyle products.

On a narrow strip of sand, sinking deeply into a struggling beach chair, hands folded over an impressive gut, an old man from Newark assumes a gubernatorial pose, turns and says to his wrinkled sunning wife: "Convahsationohvah."

Track 17

When I lived on Monmouth Street above Abbey's Pub & Grill with the increasingly large roaches and the squirrels that had somehow eaten their way through the kitchen walls, in a small, one-bedroom apartment that was too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, and smelled constantly of fried chicken, alone, free from the privilege and challenge of compromise, without a television or even the internet, in fact without any concessions or concerns at all beyond my own and those pertaining directly to myself, I listened to music in what would have ordinarily been the living room, but what was in my case the dedicated listening room.

I read in there, too, of course, but even then music was often playing and I was probably reading about music and thinking about how to be a better listener.

I sat on an orange couch, accompanied by stacks of LPs and choice CDs, directly facing a hi-fi system that was modest by audiophile standards and unusually impressive by all others, including my own: DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 loudspeakers capably powered by an Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier, playing media sourced from either the matching Exposure 2010 CD player or a Rega P3-24 turntable. At the time, cables from AudioQuest [footnote 1] and Kimber probably tied the system together, and, aside from a wife, a more pleasant home, and more money, what could I want from life?

The system played music in such a way that time itself often slowed and the room's cracked walls and sagging floors were rendered entirely meaningless.

"Love," sings Iggy Pop. "That's love."

Track 18

As I write these words, I'm physically only a few blocks away from where I was then, but life itself has changed dramatically. Happily, my wife, Kathryn, is on the couch, with our sweet cats, Avon and Stringer, about 10 feet away from where I'm sitting. I've turned my back on the hi-fi—literally, it's behind me. I spend most of my time exactly as I am now, at a small desk, the top surface of which measures 54" wide by 22" deep and holds my Macbook Pro, PSB Alpha PS1 powered speakers, four issues of Poetry magazine, three issues of Stereophile, two issues of The Fader, a ruled Moleskine notebook, two pens, a Sonic Youth button, a USB stick containing Jeremy Bible's comforting Music for Black Holes, and various other little things that I like to see and touch.

When it comes to streaming services and sources for digital music, I mostly use Spotify and Tidal, but I also happily use YouTube and SoundCloud. Bandcamp is endlessly satisfying and encouraging, and is home to adventurous, surprising sounds that I wouldn't find elsewhere. Roon is the friendliest and most intelligent music player application I have encountered.

The speakers, which have served me well since I purchased them in 2013, are connected to my laptop by an AudioQuest Evergreen 3.5mm-to-RCA cable. In between the two, if I really want to get serious, I use an AudioQuest DragonFly Black USB DAC. Sometimes I turn to headphones, usually AudioQuest NightHawks or my vintage Pioneer SE-50s.

And that's the system. That's how and where I listen.

Track 19

Last summer, Skylar Gray and I participated in an open house at the Manhattan retailer, Stereo Exchange, where we shared exhibit space with Alex Prat, cofounder of the headphone company Phonon. Having hours to pass together, we exchanged pleasantries, perspectives, and products. We gave Alex a couple JitterBug USB filters and he gave us a couple small bottles of his company's Liquid 3n contact cleaner, a sample of which has held a place atop my desk ever since, right next to my PSB Alpha PS1 loudspeakers and all that other stuff I mentioned a few sentences ago.

Sometime prior to that event, the right-channel speaker of my desktop pair began exhibiting random dropouts. I soon traced the problem to the modest output cable that connects the left-channel master to the right-channel slave: If I jiggled the cable at its connection point, I could either cure or exacerbate the problem. I've often wished that a more robust cable could be used to connect my PSBs, but, as far as I can tell, that's just not going to happen; the design does not allow for it.

Days became weeks, weeks became months, and I thought little of the seemingly inconsequential dropouts, simply addressing them as needed with a quick twist of the cable.

Yesterday, however, I finally decided to do a little more than twist the cable. I stopped the music (Lana Del Rey's excellent Lust for Life), powered down the speakers, disconnected the output cable, and applied Phonon's Liquid 3n contact cleaner to all of the connection points. Moments later, the problem was completely cured: No matter how much I fussed with the connection, the dropouts never occurred.

If that was all that had happened, I would have been pleased, but there was much more to celebrate. Music, in general, sounded better in many important ways: It was cleaner, clearer, more dynamic and immersive, with notably improved imaging and staging. As I compiled this month's playlist, the music consistently impressed me with its startling presence, seemingly emanating from areas far removed from the speakers themselves.

For instance, in "Summer Bummer," which, incidentally, never fails to bring to mind George Michael's wonderful take on Stevie Wonder's spine-tingling "They Won't Go When I Go," not to mention Benjamin Clementine's "God Save the Jungle," which itself recalls much of Tom Waits' bawdier work, when Lana Del Rey sings "It's never too late to be who you want to be," she sings it from several inches behind my computer screen and injects not just the words but their sentiment directly into my veins, and, in Sudan Archives' "Come Meh Way," which seems especially well-recorded, the bells and strings and various percussive elements are much too much to ignore or take lightly, and, in the title track from Torres' upcoming album, Three Futures, the guitars slosh like a warm and intoxicating liquid through my brain, so that when Mackenzie Scott confesses, "I got hard in your car in the parking lot of the Masonic Lodge," you really, really want to know what the hell she's talking about because, whatever it is, you know it's good.

I'm not sure how much Phonon's Liquid 3n costs or even if it's available for purchase in your part of the world, but if you find it somewhere, give it a shot. I'm in the process of applying it to every electrical connection in my life.

Track 20

Just as 2017's "Summer Bummer" is unmistakably related to 1974's "They Won't Go When I Go," just as a clear and direct line can be traced between my nights on the orange couch and my days here at this small desk, just as I've often felt that I'm basically writing the same story over and over again, I often find myself wondering whether every song ever composed or even simply sung is only a small part of an immeasurably larger piece, one that connects all times and places and expresses the most complete sphere of blah blah blah, that, essentially, every single, every suite, every symphony, everything, everything is another track on the long and growing playlist of human existence.

There's a metaphor in there about cables and connections, too, because of course there is.

Listen close, live well, love. "The pure always act from love," Iggy Pop sings on "The Pure and The Damned."

"The damned always act from love."

Weird New Pop, Vol.4

  1. Smerz: "Oh My My"
  2. Moses Sumney: "Doomed""
  3. Oneohtrix Point Never, featuring Iggy Pop: "The Pure and The Damned""
  4. Benjamin Clementine: "God Save the Jungle""
  5. Nosaj Thing, featuring Steve Spacek: "All Points Back to U""
  6. Kelela: "LMK""
  7. Lana Del Rey, featuring A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti: "Summer Bummer""
  8. MHYSA: "Just a Girl""
  9. The Blow: "Get Up""
  10. Sudan Archives: "Come Meh Way""
  11. Arjan Miranda: "Golden Hair""
  12. Mount Kimbie, featuring King Krule: "Blue Train Lines""
  13. Tyler, the Creator, featuring Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy: "911 / Mr. Lonely""
  14. Torres: "Three Futures""
  15. Mura Masa, featuring Damon Albarn: "Blu""
Weird New Pop: The Mega-Mix (Tidal Version)

Over at Tidal, Weird New Pop continues to grow, including everything available from the latest Spotify version, except for the excellent tracks from Oneohtrix Point Never and Mount Kimbie, which I'm sure you can find elsewhere.

Footnote: From March 24, 2014, through March 31, 2017, I held the title of VP, Communications, at AudioQuest.

Patrick Butler's picture

I'm loving the new Weird Pop playlist. Thanks Stephen!


B&W Group North America

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks for listening, Patrick, and thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate it!

billstry's picture

Avon and Stringer are great. My wife and I had two rescue cats to name. Kima and McNutty (Bub's McNulty nickname) was my suggestion. Kima was approved. McNutty was rejected, too cutesy. Great column. Thanks B

Greyfossil's picture

Well, I picked up some Phonon from ebay which I'll try out over the next few days. Who knows? I'll try to tell you if it makes a difference in my more modest stuff.....

Our cat was going to be Houdini or McQueen after his mother dumped him and we finally got him indoors after a couple of days. A rescue of a very small abandoned kitten; I understand why!!!!!

He then disappeared as in Houdini or the Great Escape without the motorcycle. Finally located after 4 hours in a very small location in the most impossible place ('the cooler' underneath and at the top of the dining room table) so he became McQueen...