A Letting Go or a Giving Up

...And I was returned to those weird and warm Florida nights when I'd leap eagerly from my comfortable but lonely bedroom at the sound of a weak car horn. In moments, I'd be out and free.

I sat in the backseat of Kimberly Holland's pale gray car. Honestly, I can't remember the make or model. I can't even remember whether it had four doors or two, and this bothers me, but I do believe it was pale gray. In the passenger seat, Stephanie Roof was surely wearing her sparkling, white sunglasses with the enormous plastic frames. Kim was in love with me and I was in love with Stephanie and Stephanie was in love with Jeff Somebody, a green-haired skater punk with acne that was worse than mine and teeth that were even more yellow. I couldn't understand it, but so it went. This is where we'd begin our night, off to wherever.

"Where do you want to go?" Kim would ask, a cigarette burning at her lips.

"I don't know. Where do you want to go?" Stephanie would answer.

"Anywhere. I don't care," I'd say.

And we'd go wherever, probably nowhere very far, maybe to wander around Church Street in Downtown Orlando, most likely stopping somewhere along the way, usually a Denny's on I-4 for coffee and fries. Obviously, it was never about the destination. I sat in the backseat of Kim's gray car — whatever it was, going wherever — enjoying the scent of Marlboros, drowning in the warm, sticky night air, feeling miserable and elated and stuck and gone, and even sometimes feeling nothing at all. We listened to music. We listened to The Violent Femmes, and to The Smiths, and to Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth's Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star arrived when we were high school seniors and most alive with want and need. The album was appropriate for those days, strange and dark and almost there, full of hollow laughter and forced howls, intense insecurities and very real desire. It's sluggish and hazy at times. At times violent and searing. It's a perfect album. It can be no other way, really, each song depending on every other. And I remember how it felt to get to the last track, "Sweet Shine," for the very first time. Such an exhale, the gentle sway of release, a letting go or a giving up. (Question mark.) One couldn't be sure.

I feel that I could burst
Give me a little drink of your sweet time
Is it the way you think
Or just a pattern of your glory?

Ah. So, one late night last week, I listened to this song and thought these thoughts over and over again while switching back and forth between the Trends and the Exposure amplifiers, attempting to learn something. At first, as usual, things were not very clear. The amps sounded somehow different, but still so similar. I switched and switched and switched again, and the subtle differences began to make some sense, and even began to seem not so subtle.

After one particular round of listening, having switched from the Trends back to the Exposure, the overall sonic picture was held in tighter focus. Guitars, of course, are the first instruments I notice, and they were cleaner and clearer, with more impact and color. They sounded more like Fender electric guitars, gorgeous and powerful instruments with six nickel-plated steel strings tuned just so. (Ellipsis.)

I switched back to the Trends and, yeah, the guitars weren't as pristine, the drums lacked some punch, and Kim Gordon's voice was missing some breath — I had never realized that, when she sings, "Look, it's changing colors, it's bigger than a rose," she sounds so much like Lucinda Williams, a bit husky, some gravel road beneath her wheels. Separate guitar riffs were not as distinct, musical shifts not as dramatic. Some of the final notes fade off into a hazy distance or get lost around turns, while, with the Exposure, I can follow the music as though held by the hand.

And so, I ask myself: Is this a $1000 difference?

Well, sure. I'd rather listen to the Exposure, but I could also live quite happily with the Trends. If I had the money for the Exposure, I'd buy the Trends, too.

I do have the money for the Trends. Who doesn't? I'm reminded of Art Dudley's review of the Rega P1. Art wrote:

The Rega P1 marks the first time in my experience that a designer whose work sometimes ranks with the very best has created an audio component this affordable. And by affordable I don't mean relatively affordable, as with our favorite entry-level Koetsus, entry-level Wilsons, and even entry-level Linns. I mean affordable as in cheap, as in sane, as in reachable by anyone with a job.

I really don't know much about "the very best." I haven't listened long enough, seriously enough. But, I do know about affordable, and the Trends is affordable in the same sort of way that the Rega P1 is affordable. And there is no question in my mind that the Trends TA-10.1 is worth every dollar. That's easy. The thing makes beautiful music.

As "Sweet Shine" approaches its close, with ride and hi-hat sparkle and gentle snare taps, there's one last reverberant guitar note that remains as everything else settles away. I swear: Through the Trends, that final note sounds something like a question mark (there is some uncertainty, some ambiguity, something left to be determined), while through the Exposure, it sounds more like an ellipsis¹ — the promise of more to come, the beginning of something new tied to a momentary end — and I like that.


Footnote 1: Dudes, it's a subtle difference, I know, but I listened to it about twenty times, over and again, just to be sure.

Chris's picture

Hey Stephen,Thanks for stirring the memory stew. I spent many nights driving those same roads listening to the same tunes, outwardly wishing that I was anywhere but Orlando but secretly loving every dull moment of it.Keep up the good work with the blog. It's always a good read.Chris

Michael's picture

Hello Stephen,I have'nt heard the Exposure amp, but now my TA10 has app.80+ hours on the clock,and powered by a sealed 12v lead/acid battery(huge leap in clarity an focus)it matches my Primare I30 in all but sheer grunt-Hookup your TA10 to a 12v battery and then compare again to the Exposure, you may be surprised!Michael...

Michael's picture

Hello Stephen,I have'nt heard the Exposure amp, but now my TA10 has app.80+ hours on the clock,and powered by a sealed 12v lead/acid battery(huge leap in clarity an focus)it matches my Primare I30 in all but sheer grunt-Hookup your TA10 to a 12v battery and then compare again to the Exposure, you may be surprised!Michael...

Kim H's picture

Hey Stephen, I do believe it was my red escort. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane and reliving the good old days at DHS.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I bet it wasn't as red as my face is right now. Thanks for the ride, Kim.

Kim H's picture

Its been nearly 13 years. I don't think anyone expects you to remember the color of the car I drove. Speaking of.....Do you remember that night me, you, Nick and Charlie went to the beach and went swimming??

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