Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disco continued

My fascination with disco continues to grow. Back in the '70's, playing in punk bands, working in record stores, hanging out at Max's and CBGB's, I was never a member of the Disco Sucks crowd. But I never embraced disco either, never went to disco clubs, never even saw Saturday Night Fever. Working in records stores, I was aware of what was going on with mainstream disco. At Sam Goody's, we sold a shitload of Thank God It's Friday soundtracks and the latest disco one-shot hit, from "Ring MyBell" to "Boogie Oogie Oogie."
Listening to both modern disco, like the Sorcerer out of Oakland, and Johan Agebjorn/Sally Shapiro, and classic stuff from the 1970's I love how the rhythm is the engine that propels the gorgeous arrangements and (very often) amazing technical performaces by singer and muicians. The best disco feels very spacious, without every threatning to degenerate into hippy-ish (or even free jazz-ish) jamming. The rythmic underpinning keeps things under control.
Disco Mix

Guilty Pleasure - Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore began her professional life as a Britney Spears/Mouseketeer clone, but in 2003 she released an album called Coverage that pretty definitively separated her from the other teen idols. The album was full of really well-chosen covers (Mandy said they were songs her parents had played for her when she was a kid) sophisticatedly arranged and produced by John Fields and sung confidently and with feeling by Moore. Among the songs she chose were several gems, particularly, in my opinion, XTC's "Senses Working Overtime," and the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon."
The thing that amazed me when I first heard the album was the sense that Mandy Moore, who was then barely out of her teens, seemed to comprehend what songwriters like John Hiatt, Joe Jackson and Andy Partridge were writing about. Now I'm not so sure - it may be that she had a really good producer and that she is a much better actor then she's had a chance to demonstrate in her movie and television roles.
Whatever the case, I love the album, I love the choice of covers and I love her voice.
Mandy Moore - Senses Working Overtime
XTC - Senses Working Overtime

Mandy Moore - Umbrella (Rihanna cover)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rainstick Orchestra

I first heard Rainstick Orchestra on KCRW a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with its clever arrangements, memorable melodies and hints of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. (Even though the sound sometimes veers dangerously close to what I imagine Spyro Gyra or the Yellow Jackets must have sounded like.)
I played the album (The Floating Glass Key in the Sky) pretty relentlessly for a couple of weeks, and then moved on to something else, and frankly forgot about it. However, this week, as I was sitting with Conner, my six month old son, in my living room listening, to music while everyone else slept, during that space of time just before the sun comes up, when the birds start to sing and the shadows outside resolve themselves into trees and the tops of buildings, this song popped up on my Ipod, and Conner smiled hugely, and awkwardly reached out to hug me, and the music perfectly matched our mood and briefly reflected the brightening sky.
Rainstick Orchestra - Waltz for a Little Bird

Rainstick Orchestra is made up of two Japanese musicians, Baku Tsunoda and Naomichi Tanaka. The album is available from Amazon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rolling Stone on the death of high fidelity

Check out this link to a fascinating piece in Rolling Stone by Robert Levine on the ten-year-old philosophical shift in mixing records that is responsible for producing a sound that might, as Levine says, truly mean "the death of high fidelity."
The basic point is that record producers, using dynamic compression, are now mixing records at a very high volume, with little variation between the different instruments, and between the highs and lows. Apparently, this makes the records sound brighter and therefore more likely to sound good on the radio. However, it can also cause the records to sound peculiarly monosonic. If you look at the sine wave of some of these songs (like Arctic Monkeys, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.") it's one thick black line.
The article quotes a bunch of leading producers, split about half and half between those who like the New Loud and those who bemoan it. (Guess which side of the argument Butch Vig comes in on. Now guess what Donald Fagen thinks.
In the extensive list of links at the end of the article, I came across an article from Wikipedia that reported the following:
"In 1997, Iggy Pop assisted in the remix and remaster of the 1973 album Raw Power by his former band The Stooges, creating an album which, to this day, is arguably the loudest rock CD ever recorded[Cite]. It has an RMS of -4 dB in places[11], which is rare even by today's standards[Cite]."
Oddly enough, I had been contemplating the idea of posting the original and the remixed versions of "Search and Destroy" as part of a discussion of the current drama surrounding Raymond Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish, as discussed in a piece in the recent Fiction issue of The New Yorker. But I think posting the two is more appropriate for this:

The Stooges - Search and Destroy (Original version)
The Stooges - Search and Destroy (Remixed/remastered)

I am kind of torn on the issue. I love the original "Search and Destroy," and I remember saying to myself when I first heard it, "this is the loudest, hardest rocking song I have ever heard." It would have been hard to imagine how the song could have gotten more intense. But I gotta say, the remix is kind of cool.
(I would also love to see an analysis of some high volume classics, like Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water, or Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," or the Clash's "White Riot.")