Reviews – Aston Origin microphone and three kinds of cheese

Not interested in blathering about some goofy-looking microphone? I can’t blame you. Scroll to the bottom for the cheese reviews you are looking for.

Aston Origin Microphone – A few months ago I picked up this puppy used on eBay as the only bidder.

Oddly, it also came with a Samson boom stand (which must have made it cost much more to ship) and a decent VTG cable with Amphenol plugs.

As seen in the pictures, this somewhat conventional large-diaphragm condenser microphone is pretty unconventional-looking. Rather than the usual windscreen, the capsule is covered with sort of a steel wool-like material and a flexible metal spring material that can be bent right back into shape if the microphone falls. There is no paint or finish, but the mic is tumbled for a nice-looking industrial exterior. The mic also eschews any kind of typical stand-mount. The bottom screws right into a mic stand. It is also really, really wide and really, really heavy, which will be mentioned later. The microphone, pretty much priced to compete with Chinese-manufactured mics, is also made in England.

But after just a few months I am selling it on Reverb. It isn’t a bad mic by any means. The pick-up pattern is cardioid-only but it features pad and high pass switches. It sounds OK on everything I tried it on – vocals, acoustic guitar, various drums, and electric guitar. But I haven’t found it to sound great on anything. For example, my old Oktava MK220 sounded much, much better on guitar amp. Without EQ I actually find it to sound a bit bright and harsh. It is supposed to be a “natural, neutral” sounding transformerless mic. I would wager the Chinese-made capsule is the typical “K67” style. With a center-terminated capsule, plosives aren’t as much of a problem as they are with mics with edge-terminated capsules, and this one is supposed to be usable without a pop filter, but I still feel like a pop filter is necessary for vocals.

Although this mic is apparently internally shock mounted, the lack of a conventional means of mounting to a stand actually becomes a big problem. Many mics, such as kick drum mics and ribbon mics, have a build-in stand mount, but those integrated stand attachments swivel so the mic can be appropriately angled! This one doesn’t. The mic just screws right into a stand. That means angling the mic at anything other than a straight zero degrees requires a boom arm, and this mic is heavy! Pointing the mic straight down, as one might do in a drum overhead setting, just plain would not work with an inexpensive boom stand like the included Samson stand. “But Gabe,” you must be saying, “What about all those readily-available inexpensive shock mounts you can buy on ebay shipped directly from China?” Excellent idea – except this microphone is really, really wide, so the only shock mount that likely works with it is the expensive Aston-branded one manufactured by “caviar-of-shockmounts” brand Rykote. No thank you!

With a brand new baby, I haven’t used any microphone for any reason the past month, but I knew that when the time calls to open up the microphone closet this won’t be one I will reach for.

“So, Gabe, what similar large diaphragm condenser microphones would you recommend in the same price range?” Good question. I recommend buying used, and off the top of my head, I would say Oktava’s MK219 or 319, the CAD M-179, various Røde models, or the Latvian-made BLUE Baby Bottle are all better options.

So far my sale posting has had six views. I am keeping the stand and cable. B-

Beecher’s No Woman Cheese – This cheese doesn’t really taste anything like Jamaican Jerk spice (because it isn’t spicy), but this is a fun cheese nonetheless. It may be a bit salty and a bit “flavored,” but it is still pretty good. It is actually a bit salty for my taste on crackers but I remember liking it in mac ‘n’ cheese. A-

Beecher’s Flagship Cheese – This delicious and totally inoffensive sort-of-crumbly white cheese makes a great grilled cheese, a mean mac ‘n’ cheese, and tastes great on crackers. A

Kerrygold Special Reserve Cheddar Cheese – Now this is the ticket! Deliciously sharp, perfect texture, a real winner. Cheese and a half. A+

Reviews – Pho Kim Chi, Suavecito oil-based pomade

Pho Kim Chi – Leaving work, my family had already eaten, and I had not. I was thinking of stopping at Burger King for an Impossible Whopper, but then it occurred to me that, on the very same block, I could eat something that was actually good from a local business I like.

As always, Pho Kim Chi delivered friendly service and more reasonable prices than the competitor, Pho T&N, in the neighboring strip mall. The past few times I ordered “stir-fried tofu and lemon grass.” Today I ordered “lemongrass tofu” from the next page. It turns out this is indeed a very different dish. This one lacks the variety of vegetables that the other has, but it more than makes up for it with heaping mounds of perfect stir-fried onions, even tastier lemongrass tofu with a perfect texture, and the kind of coleslaw that reminds me how much I love cabbage. Pho Kim Chi’s portion sizes are enormous, and perhaps I could have made two meals out of it, but sometimes “more is more.” A+

Suavecito oil-based pomade – “Very few ingredients” is all the rage. “The Impossible Whopper has, like, a whole bunch of ingredients,” people say, “so I trust the regular whopper because it has just one ingredient – meat.”

As far as men’s hair-styling product goes, Suavecito makes an excellent water-based pomade which contains a whole bunch of ingredients including hydrogenated castor oil. (I had to remind myself that I do not eat pomade and thus should not be concerned.) I was curious about their oil-based pomade, which contains three, and as it turns out . . . If you have been wishing for vaseline with fragrance, Suavecito oil-based pomade delivers the goods.

The first ingredient is, in fact, petrolatum, a.k.a. Vaseline. The next two are wax and fragrance. In a pinch, have you ever styled your hair with Vaseline? Since my wife was recently pregnant and sensitive to strong smells like pomades, for a while I was, indeed, styling my hair with straight up Vaseline-brand Vaseline, so I remember exactly how Vaseline stacks up as a men’s hair-grooming product. It works. It actually works quite well. Hold for days. Shine for more days. And lots of greasy residue and a faint gasoline smell.

The big deal breaker with Suavecito oil-based pomade, in addition to it being more expensive than plain old Vaseline, is that it is incredibly greasy. I find myself reminded of a scene in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America that I can’t remember all the details of. If I style my hair with my fingers my fingers are covered in scented Vaseline that just doesn’t wash off. Yikes.

Luckily there are many better products on the market, notably from the same brand. If this were the only way to keep hair in place I think I would just opt for, like, a number two on top. C

More Reviews – two brands of diapers, a new Starbucks, and the new Hot Chip album

Seventh Generation “N” size diapers – Seventh Generation makes perfectly good toilet paper and wipes, but their newborn diapers are too big, cut sort of like boxers, with no umbilical stump cut out, they leak, and they are very sticky. There is no wetness indicator strip. Experienced parents will recognize the puffy look of wet diapers, but as a new father five years ago I certainly appreciated Pampers’s blue strip. They are also a shade of brown that makes it difficult to see brown in the diaper. D

New Bremerton 6th Ave. Starbucks – This new Starbucks, which has a drive-thru, appears to occupy what used to be an entire bank but actually occupied only half of the building. The rest if unfinished and presumably awaiting a tenant. The store is large but not cavernous, with his ceilings, but it is a bit “warmer” and “cozier” than similar drive-thru equipped high-ceilinged Starbucks stores. The blonde doppio I drank was not great but tasted closer to good coffee than the regular Starbucks doppio. The stranger who sat at the table next to us was cool and very nice. Another stranger, who had an extra cookie crumble frozen coffee beverage concoction with an error, gave me their drink, and I tried it. Yuck! Something loaded with sugar should taste good. This merely tasted like diabetes. Bremerton now has five Starbucks (excluding franchises in Safeways and such), and from best to worse I would rate them as follows:

  1. Kitsap Way
  2. This new one
  3. The one by the ferry terminal
  4. The one on Wheaton Way by Grocery Outlet
  5. The one way up on Wheaton Way by Les Schwab

And since Starbucks is generally not the best option, even in Bremerton, if they are open I would recommend Saboteur or Hot Java. B

Honest Diapers (“N” size) – I first became aware of Jessica Alba from her prominent role in the 1999 horror comedy Idle Hands. In the two decades since, Alba has made the journey from Dark Angel to diapers, founding the Honest Company, which makes not very good shampoo. These diapers, on the other hand, are the ticket. They are smaller than most “N” size diapers, which may be a concern for parents of jumbo-size newborns or older babies who may be inching toward the “0-3 month” size. First-time parents may be inconvenienced by the lack of wetness indicator strip. They also have very cute graphics, and I don’t recall having any problems. A+

Hot Chip/A Bath Full of Ecstasy (2018) – More like “a bath full of meh.” Considerably worse than their previous record, which was in itself a notable step down from the quality standard set by the two albums before it. But those two albums – One Life Stand and In Our Heads were terrific. This “dreamy” album, which sounds like Hot Chip making a boring record and has a stupid name, is a big snooze-fest. C+

Light Life White Bean and Kale Deli Slices

Yesterday I reviewed Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, a meatless burger with the ambitious goal of looking and tasting just like a hamburger.

Today I am reviewing an unassuming Trader Joe’s deli product that doesn’t promise much of anything. As a matter of fact, this one features kale, one of the most mocked foods out there, and the first ingredient listed is wheat gluten, which many folks have been stubbornly avoiding for the past 15 years. It also prominently features navy beans, which are not quite as fashionable as, say, chickpeas, which are oddly less fashionable when they are called garbanzo beans, which is what I prefer to call them.

Honestly, kale is tastier than a lot of folks make it out to be. Kale chips baked in the oven with nutritional yeast or brewers yeast are pretty good. Roasted kale with lemon is pretty good too. Kale also pairs pretty well with navy beans (which seem to be slightly hipper when called “white beans”), as it does in these slices.

Thanks to the wheat gluten, the texture of these deli slices is nice, similar to something like Budding brand sliced turkey. I made a cold sandwich with these with tomatoes, mayo, Grey Poupon, and Havarti on a Trader Joe’s sourdough most likely baked by Seattle’s Essential Baking Company. The Grey Poupon taste dominated and overwhelmed the sandwich, but the flavor the slices had was pleasant, with the familiar taste of navy beans accented by a pleasant taste of kale and some saltiness. These do not taste like meat, nor do they taste like nitrates or smokiness. The white beans and kale are more pleasant than a low quality smoked deli meat product like, say, baloney. This sandwich also would have been really good with cucumbers. Sprouts too. No one likes sprouts any more, but some sprouts would have really been the ticket. Next time I’ll add that stuff and go a little easier on the Grey Poupon.

Although these do not taste anything like any particular meat product, they are flavorful and tasty in their own way and have a nice texture, and with both navy beans and wheat gluten providing a great deal of protein, these are a perfectly fine deli sandwich ingredient. A

Review – The Impossible Whopper (with cheese) and other assorted Burger King products

The Impossible Whopper (with cheese) – I tried an Impossible Burger, one of two competing “game-changing” vegetarian burgers, for the first time a few months ago at Red Robin and found it to be entirely better than the more common Beyond Burger, as available at Carl’s Jr and supermarkets. The Beyond Burger tastes like meat – not necessarily beef but meat. If someone told me it was buffalo or ostrich I would enjoy it and not know the difference.

Yes, I know that Burger King cooks these on the same grills as beef and chicken, and I do not care. In spite of the way vegetarians, pescatarians, and vegans are depicted in society, the overwhelming majority are reasonable, realistic people who will gladly split a pizza down the middle that has meat on the other half and will eat french fries from a deep fryer that may have been used to cook chicken nuggets.

If I were reviewing the Impossible Whopper on account of the Impossible Burger patty it would be a solid A+, but scrolling down a bit will review an “A-.”

Here’s why: It’s a Whopper, and it suffers from most of the same problems that the meat Whopper suffers from. Notably, the Whopper is an overly large and overly flat burger with a dry sesame seed bun that seems to go on forever. It is well dressed with tomatoes, pickles, onions, iceberg, mayo, and ketchup, but the burger itself is cooked on some kind of conveyer belt/Foreman grill/microwave hybrid that puts artificial “charbroiled” lines on the burger.

I haven’t had a meat Whopper in ages, but I remember what they taste like, and the meat is dry and flavorless enough that the vegetarian Impossible Burger is clearly tastier. It is also cute that Burger King has not only specially-printed “Impossible Whopper” wrappers but “Impossible Whopper with Cheese” wrappers. Because the Whopper is probably the only iconic fast food burger out there that doesn’t come with cheese by default.

The fact that the Impossible Burger is tasty enough that it redeems itself even with “the Burger King treatment” is remarkable. A-

Burger King Small Fries

Let’s just get right to the point. Burger King has some of the worst fries in the industry. With even Wendy’s delivering surprisingly good skin-on shoestrings these spuds are inexcusable. BK’s French fried potatoes are a lot like Dairy Queen’s in that they seem to be coated with a thin layer of flour or something, except they manage to be thicker, saltier, and nastier. People have different preferences of fries. I like single-fried shoestrings. Some folks may like Belgians, steak fries, or some other variety. But no one would like Burger King’s fries. D-

Surge Soda

I think I reviewed the reissued Surge Soda for the last iteration of Spotting it advertised on BK’s Coke Freestyle machine, I had one of those “Since I am already making a bad dietary decision with my trip to Burger King I might as well make a really bad decision and take a nostalgic trip down Surge Lane.”

Sometimes the return of a product everyone forgot about two decades later provides a sort of clarity. Surge, which is a curious bright green, did just that today.

I always considered Surge to be the only soda in its particular category, perched midway between the “neon green soda” segment dominated by Mountain Dew and, to a lesser extent, Coke’s Mello Yello and the “clear citrus soda” genre popularized by 7-up and Sprite, but . . . . Wait a minute? There was already a soda in this category long before Surge. Green River! Remember Green River? They probably still make it. Surge, which doesn’t taste exactly like Green River but certainly tastes quite a bit like it and looks quite a bit like it, is Coke’s Green River. B

Twix Pie

Might as well polish off a trip to BK with a final bad dietary decision. The idea of the words “Twix” and “pie” being used in the same sentences, particularly directly after one another, was just too much to pass up.

This frozen dairy dessert isn’t worthy of being called Twix or pie. There’s sort of a graham cracker crust, caramel, chocolate, and weird frozen dairy product somewhere in between Cool Whip and marshmallow fluff in consistency all served up in a waaay-too-sweet triangular wedge in the same type of triangular box BK would have used in the 90s.

Not as bad as their fries, but certainly not anywhere near as good as something called “Twix Pie” ought to be. C-

I might as well mentioned that Burger King was also playing bad current pop-country. My five year old son, who usually doesn’t get very excited about this sort of thing, enjoyed part of his mother’s Impossible Whopper with cheese (and no onions !?!), probably because the flatness of the Whopper made it easier for him to eat.

In any event, the arrival of the Impossible Burger at Burger King is a significant step in the right direction. Plenty of vegetarians and vegans eat entirely satisfying and tasty diets without ever stepping into a Burger King. Plenty of black bean, nut, and “garden” burgers are perfectly good sandwiches in their own right. But what about those days that just don’t call for a black bean burger? Until recently the various Boca Burgers and such that attempted to mimic meat missed the mark. Sure, on a heavily-dressed bun they pass, but they weren’t winning over many fans. The Impossible Whopper is, in fact, tastier than the meat version of the same sandwich. It isn’t health food. Neither is the real Whopper. But the environmental, economic and possibly public health potential of having adequately meat-like vegetable protein products that are, in fact, similar to and possibly tastier than animal product is a big deal.

Reviews – Cascade Farms Graham Crunch Cereal, Kroger Simple Truth Organic Orange Juice

Cascade Farms Graham Cracker Crunch – If you have been thinking “Gee, I have a real hankering for a cereal that resembles Golden Grahams but isn’t very good,” Cascade Farms has just the cereal for you.

Although the box does not say so anywhere, I have always suspected that Cascade Farms is owned by, distributed by, or somehow otherwise affiliated with General Mills. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The top of the carton sports Box Tops for Education.
  2. Every product Cascade Farms offered seems to be very similar to a General Mills product.

I rather like Golden Grahams in sort of a guilty pleasure way. It was one of my favorites as a kid. It isn’t the healthiest cereal out there, but it isn’t exactly Captain Crunch either. It’s just sort of a sweet, crunchy, curiously glossy cereal. Based on how similar Cascade Farm’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch-style cereal is to the real thing I had high hopes for this one.

Nope. This looks and tastes like you’d expect Trader Joe’s attempt at a Golden Grahams-style cereal to taste like. The cereal, which is more matte than Golden Grahams, is heavily coated in visible sugar, whereas with the real product the sugar seems to be blended into each nugget of cereal product. Somehow it tastes less sweet, more dry, and less flavorful all around. Yet it still leaves the cereal consumer with the same empty, guilty feeling he or she would have after eating real Golden Grahams. C-

Kroger Simple Truth Organic Orange Juice (with pulp – not from concentrate) – This is almost as good as Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Orange Juice, which is by itself entirely worth the price of an annual Costco membership. That stuff seriously tastes almost as good as the stuff from one of those automatic orange juicing machines.

It is definitely not the same product repackaged though. The jug is a little different. It doesn’t have a plastic protector seal under the cap, and it tastes only perhaps 92 percent as delicious. It is also available in “no pulp” and “with pulp” varieties. The pulp level in the “with pulp” variety is similar to the “some pulp” or “homestyle” varieties of Tropicana/Florida’s Natural/Simply and certainly less than Tropicana’s absurdly pulpy “Grovestand” variety. It is also better than anything made by those brands – or the non-organic version of Kroger’s not-from-concentrate OJ. Somehow this orange juice tastes fresher than it probably actually is, lacking in any kind of discernible “packaging” taste. The pulp also adds some refreshing zing. When stacked up against Kirkland Signature’s masterpiece of an organic orange juice, at $3.49 at Fred Meyer, this one is a whopping $1.50 cheaper per unit item, and you only have to buy one at a time. A

Reviews – Tacocat / This Mess is a Place, Huggies “Special Delivery” diapers

Tacocat/This Mess is a Place (2019) – In the tradition of “fun” Seattle bands like the Young Fresh Fellows and the Presidents, the less silly, more political, surf-tinged Tacocat return with their third and best (poppies, catchiest, and most cohesive) album so far, recalling 90s acts like the Cranberries, Ace of Base, and Velocity Girl across its ten tracks. This is also mastered noticeably quieter and is thereby better-sounding than their previous record. A+

Huggies “Special Delivery” N-size diapers – These are packaged in an attractive black box, which is 99 percent of why I bought them. For reasons that probably have everything to do with anatomy, our similarly-sized son got along with Pampers but not Huggies, but Huggies are the better match for our daughter. These have cute slogans like “hello, world” on the diaper and a little dip-down for the umbilical stump. They are also unscented, which is a big plus. They aren’t terrifically different from regular Huggies, but the black box is hard not to buy. By the way, the first food product packaged in black was Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Why not? A

Review – TBASA / Caffeinated Funeral Songs (2019)

Much like me, TBASA, who I met about ten years ago playing in a Michael Jackson cover band, releases a solo album about once per year, generally playing and recording everything himself. Much like Beck, who may follow a textural, organic record like Morning Phase with the glossy pop of Colors, genre-hopping TBASA makes albums that are quite different from each other but share the same songwriting signature, rendering the backwoodsy Brevity is its Hallmark and the poppy, tuneful Don’t Say Sucks roughly equally good albums.

Caffeinated Funeral Songs, like its predecessor, showcases Tim’s acoustic guitar-and-voice side very well with minimal yet fully textured and dreamy landscapes created by reverb and soft sonic touches. There are no full drum sets, house arrangements, or rapping this time around. (But there very well might be on next year’s album. Next year’s album might feature piano on every track too. Who knows? That’s the great thing about these albums.) At least three of these songs are older, including “Downward Slide,” which happens to be the first TBASA song I ever heard. It works well as the opening cut here as it is, probably more than any other song I can think of, the prototypical TBASA song. Don Farwell, who my pals in the Stereo Creeps record with, recorded this track, and the seriousness of Farwell’s craft is evident year. What surprises me is that, with the transition to the second song, which is recorded by Tim himself and features a prominent electric bass alternating between steady root notes and some cool little runs, probably in some kind of non-studio setting, there isn’t any kind of noticeable drop-off in production quality, which is a testament to both Tim’s growing production chops and the improving quality of home recording technology. The sound and feel remains consistent throughout the album.

I was not disappointed to hear three familiar songs. Sometimes when I am recording a new record I find that some older song that I had never recorded, never recorded well, or never really “finished,” is a perfect song for the current project. I also don’t think I have heard a recorded version of “Wishful Fisher” until now. When I was in Marnie with Tim we rehearsed the song early in our formation, I forgot about it, and towards the end of our run it briefly became part of our set list. (There is YouTube footage from the Can Can to prove it.)

Maybe I’m biased due to an immediate “Hey! I recognize that song!” reaction with three songs, but Caffeinated Funeral Songs has more of an immediacy to it than The Empath and the Hypervigilant. Although they are similarly dreamy acoustic sets, I would say Empath was more of an “alone in a cave” quality, whereas Funeral Songs feels more “intimate” or “at home.” (Similarly, to my ears Good Good Good is Tim’s “space” album.) It has a heavy dose of catchy, with songs like “Mrs. Succubus” featuring a heaping helping of TBASA’s special catchy sauce.

Having not written reviews on a regular basis since lapsed a couple years ago I struggle to wrap up this review, saying something along the lines of “This is a good record. You should listen to it. There are also many other sides to TBASA, so you should listen to his other records, including next year’s, and the one from the year after that, too.” A couple years ago I probably could have said more than I just said in one paragraph. The new version of WordPress also has a lot more paragraph functions and such that pop up unexpectedly. I’m rusty and out of it. Anyways, my five-year-old son just yelled from the living room “Dad! I am thirsty for the last of the milk!” with hilarious prosody. There is actually a tiny bit of milk still left, but I will have to hit up a grocery store, hopefully Safeway or Trader Joe’s (the stores with the best milk, for completely explainable reasons that are a lot more objective than “this milk has more of an at-home quality than this other milk with its alone-in-a-cave quality,” which could be the topic for a further review), and get some more milk.

Anyways, keep ’em coming. I’m a middle aged dad now, and I need the inspiration!