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vendredi, septembre 23, 2005

11

let's get all nerdy, let's talk about skill, once again

here is some kind of chart of eleven of I opine are ten among the better crafted and most amazingly produced songs of all time, trends and sonic hype put aside

I didn't think much, they all stuck in my memory as such and I'm infatuated with them

so don't bother me with history and George Martin and the billions of records which should be here but aren't


Lisa Germano "No Color Here" (on Slide, 41D, 1998)

I had to open up the thread with this one, because I've been studying it incessantly ever since I've discovered it, and because I've allegedly tried to copy the way it sounds on many songs of Hello Spiral. It is really Tchad Blake's finest achievement, his virtuoso use of analog compressors having really encountered Germano's own bizarre sonic senses (you can really hear she'd been trying to achieve something sonically alike Slide since 1993's Happiness), and it really shows on this simply arranged masterpiece. An acoustic guitar was recorded so close that its resonance gets multiple and really complex with the right exaggerated compression (don't know the details); at 1.30, some filtered and slightly reverberated percussive yet tonal sounds double the main notes, while a slight bass drone indorses the main resonance in the most discreet manner; the melodic percussions come back with the second chorus, to be heard in a subtly louder way; then some kind of bowed cymbals pop in to announce the drum and wind organ, yet not one of these instruments sound as an acoustic one - it is all confronting frequencies and cushions of compressed tones bumping into each others; eventually, at 3.14, an electric guitar plays an impressive hook out of some cloud of distorsion and parasites, before the song comes back to acoustic basics. This is not only skills, this is pure inspiration, this is scientific genius, this is sound-engineering epiphany!

Primal Scream "Accelerator" (on XTRMNTR, Heavenly, 2000)

So Kevin Shields had to be here, but Loveless never really made it for me, sonically speaking. Maybe because it's too damn rooted in its time, maybe because it's too much indie, maybe because it's too damn British. Maybe because it's so mysterious I could never say if I actually find it sounds amazing or just ugly and old. It never baffled me, it always remained beyond my understanding, beyond my reach. So do Eno's production for The Talking Heads and Bowie, for instance, and I really prefer the razzle-dazzleness of Scary Monsters, or of Magazine's Real Life if you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, I'm simple-minded, and I like when a proven genius gets all showy and demonstrative, and Shields does just that on this very cool Stooges rip-off on Primal Scream's excellent 2000 album. It's a silly idea, Shields adding layers and layers of noise and static with every new bar, while a guitar or a machine mimicks a siren in the back. It gets noisier and noisier and you think it can't get noisier and still it does and yet it never gets confused or unreadable. That is, a technical tour-de-force, a sheer demonstration in noise.

Autechre "Lentic Catachresis" (on Confield, Warp, 2001)

I fell in love instantly with this track, on first listening. I even remember reviewing it at the time as a "pornographic" sound assemblage. Not much happens, at first, though - a few somber synth chords, some heavily processed voices (or, are they?) going in hazardous directions and pitches, and a crunching rhythm stumbling incessantly on tatters of its own matter. Matter, did I say? Oh yes, this track is all about palpable, actual matter, about textures taking over beats. I don't know how Booth and Brown achieved that, and I can tell you, I'm no Autechre otaku, but the percussive sounds just feel like patches of compressed snow, or sand, or dirt, or whatever, and it's just amazingly beautiful to hear. As the tempo accelerates halfway, they even start to dissolve, to run in some strings of semi liquid sonic slime while the ever lasting foundering chords and voices laboriously manage to make themselves heard from the puddle created by the slimy tatters of drums. Sorry about the poor metaphors, but the true thing is that this track remains an absolute mystery to me, and I have absolutely no idea about how they've done it. I like that.

The Kinks "Lazy Old Sun" (on Something Else, Pye, 1967)

One little detail made this Shel Talmy production distinct from other, more obvious Talmy favorites (anything on My Generation by the Who, The Creation's "Making Time" or "How Does It Feel to Feel", any track on The Pretty Things' two first LPs) - the double whining, feedbacking guitar that shrouds Ray Davies' words in absolute melancholy during verses. I guess you have to credit Dave for that, the crazy distorted guitar sound and the amazing feeling it conveys. Or maybe it's the way it converses with the rest of Talmy's frontal, sparkling and dirty at the same time, overall sound. The shakers provide the hushing cloth in the background, the drums are impossible to locate, far and close at the same time, Davies' lead is kind of close, but is doubled from yet another distance. There are also fake soprano routines happening in some fake reverberated room, but they are mostly impossible to discern, as are the rhythmic guitar, the organ washes, or the trumpets . Eventually, the whining blurry guitar swallows them all and takes them all in yet another state of indescernability, so that in the end, you don't know if the tone of the tune of the song is merry, suicidal, melancholic, or all of these at the same time, which is exactly what the song is about. This is one neat combination.

Ulver "Hymn 1 - Of Wolf and Fear" (on Nattens Madrigal, Century Media,1996)

I can already see your frowning eyebrows with this one, either thinking "who the hell is this" or "why is he excavating this awful trip-hop Norwegian band?". The thing, these weirdos used to be a Black Metal band, dear, and this impossible record, their third, is their only 100% BM album, and without a doubt the most bizarrely produced BM album ever. They turned into a trip-hop band just after (and working with Sunn O))) and being remixed by Fennesz or Meat Beat Manifesto but that's another story). There is one story going with this "Nattens Madrigal" that they got a lot of money from their new label and spent it all on booze, then recorded it on a four-track cassette. Another says that they recorded it in the woods. A third says that they really and willingly took the spontaneous BM aesthetics, born out of the actual poor means and non-skill-fullness of its instigators, say, Darkthrone or Burzum, and took it ten steps further (if you don't know, BM is the only DIY, lo-fi movement of extreme metal, and the most DIY - and evil - call it "true black metal" - true also often meaning racist, but that is yet another story). This gives a somewhat weird over-produced non-production, bursts of medium and overdriven guitars that are systematically equalized over the top confronting hi-fi ambient intros and outros in the most indecent manner. It is, if you will, super-calculated, almost arty BM, miles away from truly lo-fi BM where you actually can't hear anything except poorly executed drum parts and really pathetic shrieking vocals (Transylvanian Hunger by Darkthrone is the thing), and they've been both hailed and hated for that. But damn, it's weird. And it's really super, super wild.

Capsule "Super Scooter Happy" (on S.F. Sound Furniture, Contemode, 2004)

If you're a regular of this diary, you must know by know I've been obsessed with Tomonori Hayashibe's skills and talent for almost a year, now. This led me to put Plus-Tech Squeeze Box's Cartooom! at the very, very top of my favorite records of 2004. Some kind of crazy alter ego doing his own revival of every possible form of pop music at the same time, the guy manages to be supernoisy and super-laborious and super fun at the same time, cutting and pasting faster than you can pronounce or even think of the word "experimental". He blew my mind. Really. You have to realize, the kind of mixtures he can breed are not only about equalizing every single snippet of sound in the right way so that they mingle together harmoniously, they are acute mirrors of our era, they are amazing Dada products, they are post-modern milestones. Skill = substance. The thing is, I've listened to Cartooom! and Fakevox and every possible gem he mixed and/or produced (Marxy's Kyosho Nostalgia, Hazel Nut Chocolates' Bewitched, Macdonald Duck Eclair's Short Short...) so many times I think I'm starting to scheming out some recurrences and system out of his work. I'm sure he's already 3333 miles ahead of that and of anything I can imagine, so I'm eagerly waiting for the next step. Still, lately, I've been switching a lot to the simpler, robotic environments Yasutaka Nakata creates for Capsule's P5 rip-offs (and more). Not really interested in the songs themselves - which do really all sound the same, but it doesn't matter as Capsule is really all about industry and plastic efficiency - I've been really fascinated by the way Nakata rigidifies his calorific synthetic pop in sequenced perfection, just as he roboticizes and dummy-fies Toshiko Koshijima's voice with his systematic use of the autotune. Not leaving one loose space breath in his sugary heaven, the super-gifted producer thus fastens every single sound to perpendicular drum beats, which cross-rule the musical space as if it was a set of shelves from Ikea, but which never make the music sound cold or martial. The compression of the drum sounds seems to help, as does the heavy mastering, but there's more, and it's quite fascinating. The kick of the drums never get really bassy, for instance, so that the drum sound always stays clear and vivid and glossing, while the bassline stays in a semi subbass background that lead the melody but never take over. On "Super Scooter Happy", a song which is about, well, being happy with your scooter, the tempo is rather faster than usual, meaning, really fast, and the rigidity goes fascinating. It never gets loose or stumbling as in your regular superfast IDM or breakcore fav, as it's really focussed on melody, and the drum loops and breaks, which are continuing, never distract the rigid trademark drum pillars. Heavily panned melodic apparels (midi trumpet, accordion, string pizzicati, electric piano) kick in and out all the time, while bells and vibes indorse the main vocal melody, only providing acceleration or deceleration between the words. Everything except the busy bassline happens in the upper high and mid territories, including the heavily processed (autotune, compression, adequate equalization) voice, so that it's quite difficult to grasp the essential multiplicity of the arrangement, but really emphasizes the unison effect of both melody and groove, the plosives and hiss of the words even mingling with the texture of the vibes. It's really obvious at 4.36, when the main drums stop for a moment. Nakata treats and cuts all sound - rhythms, melodies, and even voices - as if they were all of the same nature, kind of making his point: his music is not about expression, it is about control, and the effects it can produce. It is freakishly inhuman and very effective at the same time. It says you can induce and breed emotion out of the most rigid kinds of effect producer. It says, music can be all about skill, and skill can produce any type of effect. You can even write a song about being with your scooter, for that matter.

Edith Frost "Wonder Wonder" (on Wonder, Wonder, Drag City, 2001)

I think this one really is the most persistent fucker of them all, as I've been thinking of writing about it for more than three years. For one, it is among Edith's rare would-be hit tracks. Then it was recorded by Albini, and you know he had to be there (yet he didn't produce the thing, Rian Murphy did, and I really didn't feel like putting some shitty math rock or post hardcore record in this list). Finally, it's just the perfect, most perfect combination of space (room space, with Albini's trademark drum sound working for weird childish percussions, then idiotic drums panned in a lovely 70s way) and closeness (Edith's frail vocals feel really, really close, and so do the funny clarinet showing up midway of the track). And, by the way, Wonder Wonder is probably the most satisfyingly produced American indie record of that period, so go get it if you haven't already.

Cristian Vogel "Mentol Pencil" (on Buscas Invisibles, Tresor, 1999)

Let's talk minimal, man. Cristian always managed to be, at the same time, the most outrageously talented sound craftsman, the most bizarre sounding, and the grooviest funker of all of them maverick techno producers. This track, from one of his finest straighforward (well, kind of straightforward) inclined albums, really defies production logics, as it combine super-pumping funk breakbeats with arythmics latin shakers that wander hazardously over the mid and high ranges while sub-basses occasionally pop in in the sub-low without disturbing them. Every percussion and bell is polished with sublime gloss, managing to get only magnified, never squashed, by the heavy compression, the whole sounding like one of the most beautiful digital drum ensembles ever assembled on record (Varèse, stay around, this is "Ionisation" funk!). No wonder everyone, Oizo, Jackson, Akufen and all, is looting and pillaging Vogel's crazy funk science these days.

Prince "Alphabet Street" (on Lovesexy, Paisley Park 1988)

Taking the supercold logistics of a stripped down, synthetic driven, linear-beatboxed funk music to its logical conclusion, Roger Nelson eventually took off all the bass on this one-time amazing single. Weird, huh? Still obsessed with the Roland-707 (accordingly not the most hyped-out of beatboxes) and sequencing techniques that made Sign O' The Times such a drifting, unhinged listening experience, Prince refocussed his songs composition-wise on Lovesexy, to greater (this song, "Dance On", "Positivity") or poorer result, and wiped ALL the bass sound that remained. Except for the bright thin thumping of a slapping bass, "Alphabet Street" is thus all robotic digitality, mid-range metallic clearness, super-groovy linearity, with occasional surprizes bursting in pseudo randomness (a superdense voice collage at 1.12, out of-tune trumpets at 4.30, midi bells at 4.45, car and other concret sounds bursting at 3,15, the supersexy, all glottal and humid "I love you" at the very end, and lead guitar and winds backing up from far, far, far away) and extremely rare lower frequencies kicking in with the soulful "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" choir hook that comes at the end of chorus. Who said you needed kick drums and sub-bass to get all aroused and dance-y? This is the thinnest dance tune ever recorded.


Sheena Ringo "Yami ni Furu Ame" (on Shouso Strip, Toshiba, 2000)

If there's something you can actually praise Ringo for, it's really the sheer excentricities of arrangement and production that she and her long-time partner Seiji Kameda put her lavished indie/ j-pop tunes through. It's nothing new, Shouso Strip, Karuki Zamen Kuro No Hana and even Tokyo Jihen's Kyoiku all happen with bursts of noise, heavily processed textures and Protools wizardry. Many songs on these records even actually sound much more daredevil and daring than your usual experimental indie electronica record, it's all over her albums, with the exception of her first Muzai Moratorium, and it can happen with an undermixed voice and constant parasites (the overall weirdness of Karuki Zamen Kuro No Hana) or pure experimental happy enthusiasm (the ever famous "Stoicism"). Yet the most daring track of them all glows even more peculiarly: with its distorted, overcompressed strings, its fumes of constant noise, its eroded vocals, its overmixed bass, and everything that happen in the interstices, song number five of Shouso Strip is really the thing. The song itself is quite nice, a true Ringo gem among her more college-rock-friendly regulars; it has a charming Beatles-ian inclination, and the chorus is really intense. Yet it's really the dirtiness of its pilings of strings and noise that makes it so special. True, the trip-hoppish break with the sitars is corny. True, the guitar theme that comes after the chorus is just a Beatles rip-off. But have you ever heard the way the guitar sounds themselves dissolve into white noise and digitality? And what about the introduction, where the dirty strings fight against a sub-bass induced drum programming? So many things actually happen in the upper frequencies that you could make a whole story just describing them. Don't tell Ringo, but I've actually made a whole song using the crazy granulous sound of these strings. So I guess she wins.

5 commentaires:

À 7:05 PM , Anonymous Momus a dit...

Prince's full name is Prince Rogers Nelson, not Roger Nelson.

 
À 10:35 PM , Anonymous Anonyme a dit...

a frozen rose for edith frost

 
À 10:52 PM , Blogger odot a dit...

of course i know prince's full name, but him and i are long time buddies

 
À 10:55 PM , Blogger odot a dit...

about edith

can you image that she first and foremost describe herself as a "rollerskate enthusiast" on her website? anyway, she's got a new album coming in november and that's great news.

 
À 10:54 AM , Blogger Fausto Maijstral a dit...

Allons, allons! Ulver n'a jamais été vraiment trip-hop. Par contre, ils ont toujours été entièrement Ulver, complètement unique. Ulver, c'est le groupe ultime, je suis totalement fasciné par leur musique, leurs métamorphoses. Et leur Teachings in Silence est très proche d'être le plus bel album qu'il m'ait été donné d'écouter.

 

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