Tuesday, January 30

Armchair Producer

If music critics are frustrated musicians, I must be a frustrated record producer. Ever since I started seriously listening to music I've been interested in how records sound. This probably has something to do with growing up in an audiophile household, but I think it really took hold in the mid-'80s when I started noticing the same producers' names popping up on several of my favorite albums.

Last night I put on my headphones and gave a first listen to the new The Good, The Bad, & The Queen CD. I figured I was going to like it, and so I did. The album works well as a complete mood piece, all dark and slinky. It's not full of catchy pop songs, but the melodies are nice and I suspect my appreciation will deepen after a few more listens. Even though I knew Paul Simonon played bass on the album, I somehow wasn't expecting such a dubby feel throughout. I'd have to say it's his bass that glues the album together. Too bad the album's intentions are almost completely undone by the mixing and mastering, which is so compressed that EVERY SINGLE SOUND IS AT EXACTLY THE SAME VOLUME. Every vocal, keyboard line, percussion ting, string arrangement, and guitar figure has been squashed into flat, lifeless two-dimensional submission. It's actually fatiguing to listen to the album all the way through. Is it possible Damon wanted it to sound this way? It's possible. Given the dark subject matter, maybe he was going for a stark, cold sound. But I doubt it. The sound of the disc totally works against the music.

Do I sound like a crabby old man? I know this issue of digital compression has popped up on the internet in a few places, but do most people really care? Don't get me wrong; I don't like to place absolute value judgments on different sounds. I don't believe there are good sounds and bad sounds. I'm sure the compressed sound has its valid uses. I think it actually worked well on the Arctic Monkeys album, which feels right all loud and brash. It just makes me sad to hear a good album with a great album lurking beneath the production.

I also had a listen to Felt's Ignite The Seven Cannons. Not a bad album at all, but right off the bat I can tell it's not as solid as Forever Breathes The Lonely Word. Deebank's guitar work is lovely across the album, but the songs are not quite as strong. You may know that Robin Guthrie produced this album, which I guess was done around the same time as his production work for Dif Juz (some of the Felt instrumentals actually remind me of Dif Juz). Guthrie producing his Cocteau Twins recordings worked just fine. Guthrie producing other bands is a bit dodgy. Like he would do with Lush several years later, he blurs and smoothes all the edges off Felt. That sound worked to the Cocteau's advantage, but I think it somewhat dulls the instrumental interplay that makes Felt unique. That said, it does make this sound different from other Felt albums. I wonder if Lawrence chose Guthrie, or if it was someone else's idea.

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