May 28, 2021

How to successfully downsize your vinyl player setup without sacrificing audio quality

My downsized but upgraded vinyl record setup

Being a part of a few vinyl social circles, I have seen a number of posts of newcomer’s setups, which usually include a suitcase record player, and this motivated me to share my own downsized setup and my story of how it came to be. It is awesome to see so many new record lovers’ humble beginnings! Loving and collecting records is really a special thing. When the album artwork (especially if it’s cool art) is that much larger to behold its beauty in your hands while listening to a nice set of speakers or headphones, it makes the music listening experience so much more immersive.

1 by One all-in-one entertainment system

1970s era discontinued Bang and Olefsen speakersMy setup is an amalgam of luck and being forced to downsize my space. When my wife and I moved to a smaller but cozier apartment, I was forced to store up my full sized player, stereo receiver, and giant speakers. I had no player for a while. My wife and her sister went in on the best Christmas gift I ever got, this 1 by One all-in-one player. Vinyl, CDs, cassettes, radio, aux, Bluetooth, and USB drives with the ability to play music files but also record from vinyl to the drive in lossless format. This was a great little box! It was only the first step though, as built-in speakers for these box players aren’t optimal.

Some years prior while helping a guy build his house we needed to take a trip to Waterbury to the Home Depot for some supplies. On our trip back along the main road was a set of furniture and an old sound system on the curb of someone's property. I asked my friend to stop so I could take it and put it behind our seats in his pickup truck. I found out later from my brother-in-law, who is also an audiophile, that these were Bang and Olefsen speakers that were manufactured in the late '70s and were discontinued around '79. They were kept in VG+ condition and he kept confirming with me that I picked them up off the side of the road. He was in disbelief about that. I guess the lesson here is to never gloss over a free sound system on the side of the road. You never know what people are giving away for free. 

Lepy Super Bass Power Amplifier

The final step to my downsized but upgraded setup was an amplifier. My box has the regular red and white speaker outputs in the back but my B&O speakers only had copper wiring. My brother-in-law recommended a nice amp on Amazon that could connect these parts. I went with the Lepy Super Bass power amplifier. At 39 dollars with tax it was just 40 bucks on Amazon. This amplifier allowed me to connect the red and white cables to it and then the copper wiring of my B&Os to it. I can adjust the treble and bass to my liking and maximize the sound output better than the built-in speaker could previously.

Now with the built-in speakers on at a lower volume to help fill out the middle of the space, my setup became complete. It only cost me 40 bucks out of pocket. My dad who got me into music and record collecting at a young age has asked me to never get rid of my B&Os because to his ear he never heard such clarity from speakers that are made nowadays.

I’d like to also share a couple of recent record purchases and preorders. I am also committed to keeping my own collection very curated and small, so I only want to hold on to absolute gems and essentials that I wouldn’t want to live without. This aspect of record collecting could prove a tough habit to keep in check, as new records can always tempt a fan to purchase and grow their collection. The cabinet my dad also gave me when he was cleaning out our family home. I bought the Crosley crate for my favorites. 

Crosley Vinyl Crate and free record cabinet from Dad
I hope this inspires some newcomer vinyl lovers to continue to upgrade their setups with amplifiers, speakers, and understand that it is possible to have a downsized vinyl setup that doesn't sacrifice audio quality. Never forget to also to be aware of any curb alerts in your neighborhoods, as you never know the quality of sound systems that people might be putting on the road for free. Peace and have a great day.

The Beach Boys In Concert vinyl LP in VG+ condition for 8 dollars on Amazon

The Beach Boys In Concert clean vinyl LP

Dennis Wilson Bambu record store day green vinyl LP

Dennis Wilson Bambu record store day green vinyl LP

Flying Lotus Yasuke red vinyl LP preorder

April 7, 2021

Dark Flow Designs Etsy Shop - Visually Stunning Kaleidoscopic Art

Dark Flow Designs

I am unveiling the launch of my brand new Etsy shop, Dark Flow Designs! Over the past few years, I have enjoyed creating various abstract artwork. Two years ago, I used this artwork that I have created for my DJ Dark Flow music releases, namely my Cracking the Code and Backwords Thoughts singles and my Crystallize album cover. 

Now, I am pleased to announce that many of these unreleased abstract pieces will be available for purchase as wall art decorations to enhance any living space or creativity. Take a look at the shop by following this link, and stay tuned for newly released artwork from my visual branch of creativity, Dark Flow Designs! Stay creative and stay safe. 

February 16, 2021

Transatlantic duo Configa and Hastyle unleash The ConfigHas Crates, setting hip-hop ablaze!

Hip-hop has been through many trends over the years. As the founding hip-hop genre has inevitably morphed into subgenres such as east and west coast hip-hop, underground, gangsta rap, conscious rap, crunk, southern rap, trap, mumble rap, etc., the prevailing sound has always been real hip-hop. Old heads remind the younger generations of aspiring artists and avid fans, while newer players help by keeping the style alive. The ConfigHas Crates is no different, as transatlantic duo Configa (beats) and Hastyle (rhymes) prove that no "body" can keep these two talented artists apart for this compilation, exhumed, electrified, and brought back to life. 

The album opens with the medium tempo’d upbeat loops of Something I Said and Hastyle wastes no time calling out those who have ghosted him in the past. "Now you waving farewell, never return my messages on the cell, son I know you got my voicemail, text messages and email, what the hell? How could you do me like? Is it jealousy, envy, why are you screwing me, black, I’m Hastyle fam." The beat is bountiful with soulful vocals and licks while Hastyle uses his storytelling powers to deliver a message that many people can relate to when falling out of touch or when there’s no telling why a person drops someone for seemingly no reason. Was it something he said? He doesn’t take long to wonder and moves to focus on what is happening for him "Now". Now features rapper Nine on the second verse who brings a hardened and gritty swagger to this head-bobbing and sultry cut. The nearly buried coos of soul singers and flirtatious horns brings to the forefront the tasteful productions that Configa’s become known for, and Hastyle bookends the verses with his smooth-as-butter flow, commenting on the struggle that still affects his life and complementing the call and response of a sampled singers call for what’s going on "Now."

Enemies Closer almost flows seamlessly from Now as it shares the previous sample as it picks up the pace into a militaristic and Wu-inspired beat. The sampled vocals in the mix remind the listener and Hastyle to "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." Hastyle riffs off this reminder and recounts the times that friends and family has not come through for him, but why he still prefers to keep tabs on his enemies. Sadat X pulls up for a couple verses and questions the true motives of so-called friends, while Hastyle drops more jewels of knowledge, "true friends sometimes are there, and then abra-cadabra, like Houdini they wanna disappear, that’s why I rather have enemies as supporters, keep your best friends close, enemies even closer." The haunting choir-like beat is reminiscent of cuts from militant minded emcees such as Jedi Mind Tricks or Immortal Technique, but for Configa it’s just another flavor of his multi-colored repertoire of beats. Water Colors is yet another example of how many colors and styles The ConfigHas Crates is willing to draw from. It opens with a bright and flirtatious piano skit of Hastyle scoping a beautiful lady he’s determined to win. The following beat sounds Eastern-inspired, with a chorus of cello and fluttering violins that give this track a really down to Earth vibe. Hastyle turns artful as he tries to woo a pretty lady with his steady wit and conversation and takes a leap of faith. 

Alpha Bits gives up another wild beat for Hastyle to test his speed on. The reverberating bass-y and melodic music starts to run alongside Hastyle and the pair never take a misstep in this seriously funky and jazzy number. It’s almost hard to imagine that an energy like this is still rising, but suffice it to say it’s just about to plateau with the follow-up song, Sticky. "It’s a sticky situation, got me feeling sensations, like I’m on medication, taking the pain away, I love her but I gotta leave her, I’m addicted gotta be with her, I’m stuck in the game, it’s just me and Mary Jane," Hastyle takes the chorus and likens the herb to a love-addicted romance. The beat fizzles and whistles in such a way that it begs the question if MJ would truly enhance this listening experience. Rah Digga blesses this track with her unmistakable charm and raps about the writers block that can come and go with the "sticky, the snowy, the smelly, the hairy" and drowning in the liquor. "I’m lying to myself, I can’t write without it, I’m lightin’ up another, my vision’s still clouded, I said ‘oh well’, I put the pen down, swimming in these strange clouds, let a bitch drown." Despite feeling lost in this cloud of bliss, Hastyle, Configa, and Rah Digga resign themselves to just enjoy the moment, and what a moment it really is. 

Lik a Shot, featuring Wordsworth and Rashan, settles into a smoother groove and Hastyle muses over his lyrical weaponry while he takes some shots with his guests. Wordsworth and Rashan add a nonstop flow that gives this posse a special slice in the ConfigHas canon. The subject matter then drops into a more realized and pointed track in Mind Control. Hastyle questions the powers-that-be by calling out the multiple conspiracy theories without disproving any in particular. He focuses instead on the government and media’s culpability to control the minds of those who are unaware. El Da Sensei drops in on the funky seventies-television-style beat and pulls up bars concerning police brutality, mass killings, gang violence, unemployment, and the systemic failures that lead to violence in communities. World War Rap featuring Prince Po feels like the next logical progression from Mind Control. Hastyle raps in the chorus, "the World War started, now the world’s cold-hearted, and everything on the radio is garbage, all you rapper’s on the market, you don’t want to be our next target." Prince Po speaks of a revolution and resolutely spits disses aimed at the fake emcees who spit dumbed down rhymes. He reminds the cotton candy rappers that him and Hastyle are hungry and the wack emcees are about to be devoured. Soldiers March opens with a faux newscast that is reporting on genocidal crimes against humanity that is tongue-in-cheek while not entirely downplaying the problem. Hastyle opens this cut with a verse about the brainwashed boots on the ground, who are trained to follow the orders of their government masters. Chino XL cuts into the assault-rifle-laden-produced beat and murders the mic with his unstoppable flow. Outro is a witty final take as Configa and Hastyle’s Midas touch blesses the beat with a review of all their previous songs from the album. It’s short, sweet, and gives listeners a necessary lesson in real hip-hop. Configa’s funky melodic lines of the final cut complement Hastyle’s overall confidence and swagger that he has exuded throughout, and it’s undeniable that this pairing is peanut butter and jelly. 

The ConfigHas Crates is a compilation spanning the years between ‘13-‘15, and it’s no question that the material presented here is meant to grace the ears of real hip-hop heads today. As the saying goes, better late than never. With this album, both producer and emcee show off their endless versatility and prove that there’s no style or rhyme that’s safe from them as they move into the future. Until that time comes though, we’ve got something really special to behold, that we can treasure "Now." 

Configa and Hastyle’s album can be purchased on their Bandcamp page. The ConfigHas Crates is available on all music streaming platforms and Configa can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @configa. 

Recommended Tracks: Now, Sticky, Lik A Shot

November 18, 2020

Earth’s Full Upon Her Burning Lips (2019) is an awesome showcase of doom metal, and probably the ultimate example of metal you can chill to

Earth Full Upon Her Burning Lips AirdriftSignals Music Magazine

Earth, a group that helped to define and form the genre of ambient metal, doom, drone, or stoner metal, has had multiple releases since the early 1990s. Taking elements from grunge and other forms of heavy metal music, Earth's founding member Dylan Carlson was notably friends with Kurt Cobain. Earth's origins in Seattle also explain this emerging hub of hard rock music that continues to be a haven of major and independent music to this day. Their latest release was last year's Full Upon Her Burning Lips, and while I am guilty of sleeping on this instrumental album, Earth has remained a personal favorite of mine, as they defined the perfect form of metal that you can relax to. Full Upon Her Burning Lips builds upon their previous releases and makes for an engrossing showcase of strong and steady guitar riffs and atmospheric drums and percussion. 

Unlike their previous release, 2014’s Primitive and Deadly (another favorite Earth release of mine), this album drops the vocal features and even sheds some members, making this release the most bare-bones of any previous releases, with Carlson teaming up again with longtime percussionist and drummer Adrienne Davies. With some overdubbing by Carlson to play bass guitar as well, this recipe of tasteful percussion and repeated guitar riffs have the ability to grow on a listener and nestle comfortably inside their head long after the echoes of these instruments fade, which is paramount to Full Upon Her Burning Lips's lasting impact. 

The album opens with a fairly long 12-minute march, Datura's Crimson Veils, which plays as more of an Earth standard for those who have come to know their style of melodies. The tones reverberate to the rising cymbals, which builds a noticeably foreboding atmosphere. Before long, this doom metal slowly thumps and washes over the mix in a steady call and response of its drop-D tuned guitar and sparsely chosen percussive beats. It repeats again and again, but eventually cracks the surface with its behemoth orbit of riffs that pay off famously with slow-motion solos, and then returns back to the start. Such is the songwriting style of Earth, as they slowly pay off carefully chosen riffs with a delicious and satisfying answer to the questions their instruments pose. Exaltation of Larks is the most straight-forward, Sabbath-inspired track of the album, and it formed as more of a studio improvisation between Carlson and Davies. 

Cats on The Briar is another example of how Earth uses call-and-response, but this time using multiple guitars that Carlson overdubs, and focusing on a brighter tone and key than the songs that came before. This key change is what makes Cats on The Briar stand out the most of what's come so far. The Colour of Poison hits more slowed-down Sabbath stoner metal vibes with its dark and descending opening. The real meat of this track kicks in a little after a minute in. It's a riff that any metalhead could recognize as one played by any heavy metal band, but Earth still makes The Colour of Poison all their own. Descending Belladonna is an interesting cut in that it was inspired by the group being tasked with performing a live soundtrack performance for the screening of the film Belladonna of Sadness in 2016. Its main riff is fragile sounding, and its bridge sections are designed to fall away into a momentary drone and minimal tempo held by Davies. This song is a character all its own and it likely fixed itself into the atmosphere of the animated movie very cohesively. 

She Rides an Air of Malevolence instantly feels like a ride with the wicked witch, as Carlson's intricate guitar melodies and Davies' cymbal, maraca, and snare hits make this another strong song that is hard to get out of the head long after it has played. Maidens Catafalque is a dissonant, somewhat messy, improvisational studio cut that wears out its welcome as soon as it's over. The practice of spontaneity in songwriting though cannot be faulted because it still feels held together, despite how loose it sounds. The last trio of tracks strongly wraps up this instrumental earworm of an album. An Unnatural Carousel is a fantastic display of multiple guitar overdubs and Davies' steadily held drum pattern. She has made mention of how unexpectedly difficult it really is to drive a doom metal track at such a slow pace, and for her work on these tracks, there really grows an appreciation for her foundation that she builds. The Mandrake's Hymn lifts its head and feels hopeful as it nears the end and A Wretched Country of Dust goes for the minor key as it bows out, displaying an attitude of masters that are far from done as the curtains close. The riffs are reminders that this isn't the end and there's more good riffs to be found and played over and over again in the future. 

What Earth does in this album released last year is something special. Their brand of impressively slow stoner metal or doom metal is a perfect companion to literally doing or working on anything, which is by no means an insult to their music by itself. The music, when actively listened to, rewards and repeats with carefully formed riffs, melodies, and drum patterns. The music Earth makes is an essential part of this subgenre of drone, doom, stoner, and ambient metal, and anyone who enjoys this album should definitely check out each of their past releases. Here's to a brand new decade and hoping this metal pair stick it out long after their now 30-year career. 

Full Upon Her Burning Lips - 8.25/10

Recommended tracks: Exaltation of Larks, Cats on The Briar, Descending Belladonna

November 8, 2020

System Of A Down’s first music in 15 years, Protect The Land, and Genocidal Humanoidz, brings to light immediate atrocities committed in their homeland

System of a Down Protect The Land Genocidal Humanoidz AirdriftSignals Music Magazine

Now is a pivotal time in world history, which should go without saying. Not only are Americans and worldwide citizens bearing witness to a historic election year, but a once-in-a-century worldwide pandemic has rocked the world. If there could be any more unpredictability, it is that ISIS terrorists from Syria, along with the corrupt regimes of Azerbaijan and Turkey have declared war on the independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, committing unspeakable crimes against humanity. These atrocities that are being committed have brought out from hiatus System of A Down, who are releasing their first new music in 15 years. 

To call this a momentous occasion for the sake of the music would take away from the grim reality that citizens of Artsakh (as is commonly referred to by SOAD members and Armenians) are facing. Their press release on their website explains it all. "For over the past month, civilians young and old have been awakened day and night by the frightful sights and sounds of rocket attacks, falling bombs, missiles, drones and terrorist attacks. They’ve had to find sanctuary in makeshift shelters, trying to avoid the fallout of outlawed cluster bombs raining down on their streets and homes, hospitals and places of worship. Their attackers have set their forests and endangered wildlife ablaze using white phosphorus, another banned weapon."

Protect The Land, opens with a straightforward hard rock riff, while Serj and Daron share vocals, "If they will try to push you far away, would you stay and take a stand? Would you stay with gun in hand? They protect the land." It's void of any of the complex songwriting style found in their final twin albums Mezmerize and Hypnotize in 2015, but that’s hardly a reason to balk at SOAD’s just cause for this single. Genocidal Humanoidz takes a more frenetic approach though and is a welcome return to their charged speed-metal sound. It addresses themes of the devil and terrorism and there’s no confusion about what point they’re trying to drive.

This pair of songs arose from a need to drive charitable donations for Armenia Fund, a US based charity organization that is necessary to combat this violence and evil being perpetrated. Whether the band chooses to start making music again remains to be seen, but the Armenian genocide has always been the driving force of System of A Down since the group’s inception. If it were for a just cause, this may not be the last of System that the world will see. Please check out their new music on any music platforms and consider giving a charitable donation through their website. These acts of cruelty should never be tolerated and we’ve progressed too far to keep allowing it with complacency or naivety. Peace.

November 2, 2020

Long Island artists Thomas Coppola and Fendii release their collaborative album, Fendii Flannel!

Amid the bleak worldwide pandemic, both major and independent music has been thumping and more alive than ever. Artists’ projects that have been cooking for the majority of 2020 and some of 2019 show that the perseverance to survive and thrive is strong in artists. We have covered Thomas Coppola's previous album releases, Dusty and Cold Cuts, and have even featured him in our first ever interview! Suffice it to say, Coppola has come a long way, and releasing just on Halloween is Coppola's entirely produced collaborative album with rapper Fendii, Fendii Flannel! 

The album kicks off with No Preference a beautifully cool strumming beat that exudes a jazzy warmth like BADBADNOTGOOD or Sour Soul. This opening track is mellow and features samplings of Thomas Coppola and Fendii’s lyrical flows for first-time listeners. "Says she wants powder, white, has no preference, none," Coppola raps about his misadventures with a lady friend who seeks the synthetic affections of multiple drugs, which Coppola plays the role of the unwilling passenger to this downward spiral. "She wants to roll with the crew," he raps, "flannel you know what it do, she showin' love, she want the drugs, girl, we got nothing for you." Fendii comes in later to further characterize this lost girl and how the steep decline of partying and drug use ends in overdose and death. It's a blunt metaphor for the ills of this kind of lifestyle, and Coppola and Fendii come across as lived-in with this life experience. Rainbow Road is instantly recognizable to the millennial generation in its beautiful 8-bit synth production. It continues the laid back flow and Coppola effortlessly delivers. Fendii brings the chorus this time and raps about the day-to-day, smoking kush, and getting closer with some ladies.  

She Knows, Fendii delivers a continuation from Rainbow Road as he shows off his individual growth from moving on from dealing. "She knows, she knows, she knows, that I don't sell drugs no more," he sings over the melodic and floating beat, and it is his first solo cut of the album. August 4th cuts a little deeper than the previous tracks with its serious cathedral organs. Fendii recollects a specific date in his life, August 4th, 1999, the scene is chilling and features a confrontation with a car-full of gangbangers who are fully strapped. The graveness of the situation highlights some of the dark corners of city life and the senseless violence that can erupt at any moment. Coppola comes in on this one with a determination to make it no matter what it takes, and their strive to be the greatest in all that they do despite the evil that comes their way is something that all can relate to. Glass takes up a more chiller tone for the album and an R&B vibe for Fendii and Coppola to use their voices for more melodic lines. The quietude and melancholy of their verses are supported by a somber piano and tremolo'd autotune, as the duo confronts the tough subjects of addiction, relationship woes, and death. 

Headband, highlighted by a beautiful Eastern music whistle and keyboard that are wistful in their call and response, picks up the pace for the halfway point of the album. Coppola opens this track with strong confidence, delivering life lessons, and showcasing what it feels like being his own boss in his lifelong passion as music maker and ultimate authority of his own destiny. Fendii later claims the struggle is not enough to make him quit, as he pushes to make his profits from legal business, dodges money-hungry bitches, and lives his life to the fullest. By this point, it should be clear that Coppola's production chops are of professional-grade, and Thottin & Plottin' is another beautifully soft and melodic beat for Fendii to tear up. His autotuned chorus and verse go hard over the beat but are an ode to not get trapped by a drug-addicted girl. Casualties, one of the more interesting cuts of the album, is one of those rare two-cuts-in-one tracks, and Fendii gets rough over the bell-echoing minimalist beat. It's a track worth rewinding because the switch halfway through delivers two distinctly satisfying beats, reminiscent of a Madlib produced cut that switches up halfway. Coppola is paired with a slick-stringed beat and his rap flows smoothly along its clever chord structure. 

Tryna Live is one of the best cuts of the album, and it faces serious single contender status. It's a message that most rappers who struggle in the game should understand and not let hate rule their hearts. "I'm just tryna live, while you're hating on me, I'm just tryin to give, while you're taking from me, want beef but it's overcooked, acting like a thug, but everybody know you're shook," Coppola raps in the chorus. Fendii then takes his turn to deliver this powerful message in his own unique way. Fraudulent Charges pulls back into that special and floating vibe that Coppola's productions have become known for. It's a slow-speed trip full of late-night vibes. Fendii pops in with the hook and chorus, and Coppola adds to this dreamy cut with his signature flair. Technically the last track of the album, Boss Fight pulls out the Nintendo influence once more, and it's more or less the parting words from the pair. The violin-laced chorus gives a classic hip-hop feel, and Coppola makes his case, "Come with your arsenal ready, you ain't got nothing on me," he raps. The aggressive and laid back vibe coincide and contrast well here. Between The Bricks is the final cut, and is technically a bonus track for Fendii and Coppola to have a little bit of fun on. The beat is fully loaded with many different facets that make it captivating and particularly strong for a closing track. Coppola and Fendii play off of one another impressively and close out Fendii Flannel with a huge bang. 

Thomas Coppola and Fendii's first collaborative album really is a huge hit. Not only has Coppola grown as an emcee and producer over the years, but his team up with Fendii proves that the pair are a cohesive and powerful pair. The success of hip-hop collaborative albums in the past come to mind, such as Run The Jewels, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, and Madvillain. This duo takes up this mantle effortlessly with their own God-given talent and skill, and it will be exciting to see where the pair goes from here. 

Recommended Tracks: No Preference, Casualties, Tryna Live