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Monday, November 22, 2010

THE ORB FEATURING DAVID GILMOUR - METALLIC SPHERES

Columbia / Sony (2010, Oct.)
Original U.K. pressing 88697760441

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire
 
Rating: 8.0/ B+

Category: Ambient / Electro 

Format: Vinyl (2 x 180g at 45 rpm)
WARNING: the label mistakenly indicates 33 1/3 rpm

David Gilmour - Guitars, Vocals
Allex Paterson - Sound Manipulation, Keyboards & Turntables
Youth - Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Tim Bran - Keyboards, Programming
Marcia Mello - Acoustic Guitar (on "Black Graham")
Dominic Le Vac - Backing Vocals

Produced by Youth (Martin Glover)
Recorded at The Dreaming Cave, South London, June 2009.
Engineered by Tim Bran and David Nock
Mixed by Youth in The Study, 2010
Mix Engineers David Nock, Michael Rendall, Tim Bran
Mastered by Stuart Hawkes at Metropolis, London
Pressed at: ?
Package Design: Simon Ghahary .

All tracks written by David Gilmour, Alex Patterson and Youth
Published by Pink Floyd Music Publishers Inc. 


The vinyl edition of Metallic Spheres is as much a treat for the eyes as it is to the touch. Here the vinyl enthusiast is well rewarded with a beautiful high gloss gatefold double album. The artwork is minimalist and elegant while retaining a distinctive front cover look that distinguishes it from it's CD counterpart. Light blue and red hues adorn the violet background instead of the plain black background of the CD.


Opening up the jacket we are greeted by two black spheres resembling 11 inch LP's again printed on high quality carton finished in superb gloss. Also a 12x12 inch tripled folded paper insert sporting the silver metallic spheres graces the innards and could be displayed 'widescreen' as a wall poster if one wishes to indulge further in this 1970's ritual for full nostalgia's effect.

Each record is housed in it's inner carton sleeve; the first in silver, the second being a black 'twin' with color matched labels respectively. All very logical and classy but purely on protective issues one would have wished for an extra soft layer for the delicate vinyl (of course many audiophiles will simply use or add their favorite inner sleeve/liner).

Both pressings were stiff, flat, shiny, black and beautiful to look at; one can predict with confidence that the cutter head had fun modulating 'the dark ice'. These are not your father's K-TEL'S with 30 minutes/side and a low cut switched at 70 Hz! Apart from some very minor 'tics' heard on the right channel midway through Side 2 of LP01, both vinyls were dead silent, equal to any good 'Audiophile Pressing' and far from the noisy crap we used to get every now and then from the U.K. 10 to 20 years ago. 

Team effort all the way
 
Metallic Spheres - Take one

"If I could slow down the wheels of time"... well dear friends not knowingly, that's exactly what I did upon first listen at least. 

Wow, talk about reaching DOWN DEEP in the bass, I never thought my system played so convincingly in the lower registers! A bit lacking in air I kept saying to myself but later on, doubts started to emerge when a very sluggish voice ask me "If I Believed...?"

I mean who am I to question Columbia/Sony Records when they print 33 1/3 rpm on all four label sides; surely they wouldn't make that kind of mistake...or would they?

After listening to the entire album immersed in the deep growls of what sounded like a throwback to a 1995 doom metal/ambient hybrid I can safely confirm that yes they actually !?%k up the speed labeling. IT IS 45 RPM!

At least I'm not alone I know a friend who did the same thing; only he never tried it at the correct speed, enjoying the "originality" of his new found discovery, The Orb that is.


Metallic Spheres - Take two

At the correct speed, gone is the Doom and Gloom to make way for a journey in sound that resembles what would happen if Pink Floyd cross-pollinated with Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream circa 1971-75. Add a teenie bit of early Vangelis and more modern fare to the mix and you get a pretty good idea of the offspring and continuity of the Kosmic music influence in the ambient and electronica scenes of today nearly forty years later.

Pink Floyd veteran and visionary David Gilmour still going on strong and adapting to the times

LP01. METALLIC SIDE

Side 1

My first thoughts were Pink Floyd goes electro with Gilmour's distinctive electric guitar, rekindling The Wall [EMI Harvest] and Wish you Were Here [EMI Harvest] flashbacks before the 4/4 thumping rhythm engages. Near the end an uninspiring voice ask if we "Believe". I found this first side good but nevertheless the weaker of the four, music wise meriting a 'C+' or 'B' at best.


Side 2

A nice warmer sounding electronic kick drum–richer than the one heard on the previous side–accompanied by Marcia Mello's acoustic guitar on the opening track "Black Graham" sets the stage for a more captivating voyage.

A melotron sounding "ah" makes a brief appearance. This side also brings a new twist with Gilmour adding pedal steel guitar to the mix; original and not encountered very often in the context of ambient and electronica, think Animals and side 2 of Led Zep III for mood effect.  A generous amount of echo (no pun intended) is added to the guitar; soon Indian vibes follow suit producing a cyclic impression with what sounds like sitar and tampura drone in the background though none are listed as such in the credits. Chimes also come into play, unfortunately these sound digitally compressed. The piercing synths seem digital and can be quite aggressive in the highs.

Fortunately the slow pounding beat reenters, augmented by flanger effects while a panned sequencer exploits the multi layered soundfield. At this point sonic memories like "One of these days" off of Meddle [EMI Harvest], as well as Rubycon, Blackdance, Albedo 0.39 or even Oxygene/Equinoxe come rushing to my mind.  

Towards the end the steady pounding beat intensifies, taking center stage and gaining weight leaning heavily towards boominess in it's final meters.

Having enjoyed much more this side for it's improved sound and musical creativity, I would definitely be more inclined to give it a 'B+'.

Despite all the latest technology at their disposal, old school turntablism thrives on

LP02. SPHERES SIDE

Side 3

The trip continues with a very interesting and mysterious intro. Good, deep, solid punch is featured in the prominent beat. Although the sound quality is pretty consistent throughout the album and more so from Side 2 on, sonic wise this would be the high point of the project. The concept album theme is reinforced with the recurrent question 'If you believe in Justice, in Freedom, Stand up for Human Rights' and this time around, the delivery is more compelling. The outro leaves us with a hint of Dub followed soon by guimbarde giving us once more the pleasant feeling of heading to another destination.

This one alone gets a '8.5/ A' in my view. Close to "demo material" especially on a big rig.


Side 4

The last side does not disappoint and conveys a more groove oriented feel by way of a quasi acoustic drumset in the distance, marking the 4/4 meter in a "huge room"; kick, hi hat, snare and ride working out together. It almost sounds like a modified sampling of an old Fresh Aire/Mannheim Steamroller! This part was strangely interesting in my first listen in 'slow motion'–33 1/3 rpm–I might add. The synths are a real treat in the highest treble as well as the deepest lows immersing oneself in the layered sound waves. A large gong signals the finale.


The Sound

The lacquers are mastered & cut a bit loud and slightly compressed but no more so than most Electronica fare at 45 rpm and way much less thankfully than the majority of dance, pop, rock and metal. There is no listener fatigue like I described in my Arcade Fire and Footloose evaluations (see Post-2 and 4 respectfully). Dynamic range is thus adequate though not as impressive as other recordings can be. 

On the other hand the frequency bandwidth is well exploited, especially so in the nether regions testing many systems 'low reach'. Equally commendable is the balanced mix and the fine sound layering's by Engineers Youth, David Nock, Michael Rendall and Tim Bran in keeping our interest from start to finish whichever turntable speed you choose to explore.  No mean feat!


Conclusion:

Metallic Spheres, The Orb's tenth studio album shows that the pioneers of (neo)Ambient along with the 'grandaddy' of Atmospheric Rock are still relevant to a newer generation as well serving as a bridge with the previous one. Though not outstanding it is nevertheless a contender for one of 2010's better creative efforts.
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MOVING ON TO MY NEXT ASSIGNMENT

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NAT 'KING' COLE and his TRIO - AFTER MIDNIGHT

Originally on Capitol W782 (1957)
Reissued by Analogue Productions

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Rating: 9.4/ A+

Category: Jazz - Traditional Pop
Format: vinyl (3x 180g at 45 rpm)

Nat Cole (vocal/piano/arranger), John Collins (guitar), Charlie P. Harris (bass), Lee Young (drums)
Produced by: Lee Gilette
Recorded at: Capitol Recording Studio, Hollywood, California, August 15, September 14, 21 and 24, 1956 Recording Engineer: John Kraus
Remastered and Lacquer cut by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering
Pressed at: RTI, California, USA


Throughout history, be it religion, geometry or aviation, the power of the troika and delta symbol have often been exalted as divine, perfect and complete. You just have to glance at your favorite turntable and chances are its plinth rest on a tripod-based system. Why, because that configuration is rock solid and such is the case when in the company of an elite jazz trio. Before The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin & Wood and even the sublime Bill Evans Trio, there was the Nat King Cole Trio.

Starting in the late 1930s first as the King Cole Swingers before changing names once signed to Capitol Records in 1943, the 'Trio cut its wax first on 78rpms later switching to 10 inch LPs in 1950. Although piano, bass and guitar were already prominent figures during the Big Band era, Cole is recognize as ushering in the countercurrent–at the time–trio format. On this 1956 recording, to be clear it is not really the 'Nat King Cole Trio' but rather 'Nat King Cole and his Trio' plus a few guest on and off, so maximum minimalism takes a back seat on this 'mid-career' release. This current reissue is part of Analogue Productions' wonderful Nat King Cole series.

Beginning with the presentation I was disappointed that the outer artwork did not reflect the very high standards that went into this reissue project. Although a 3-LP set brings it's own set of challenges regarding packaging, the visual and tactile aspects could have been handled way better. In my opinion a premium price (as such is the case) commands a premium packaging. This has been a recurring criticism with all of the 'Top 100 Fantasy 45 series' and–save for the special 5-LP box set beautifully executed–unfortunately remains with the 'Nat King Cole 45 series' as well as their 'Blue Note 45 reissues'.

The records are housed in their inner see-through 'slippery' 'plasticised' sleeves (no paper). The 180g vinyl was black, shiny, flat and silent, with the dead wax starting about an inch from the label perimeter; in other words perfect. The label is a pseudo-reproduction of the famous Capitol "rainbow" era. The word 'MONO' seems as if it's been added at the '9 o'clock' position. The "rainbow" label represented the "FULL SPECTRUM IN SOUND" and appeared in a similar manner only in 1958 in both STEREO (ST) and MONO (W or T) versions but the latter did not mention it anywhere on the label whereas the former did. Therefore in 1957, the original US pressing would be the (pre-rainbow) black label with 'Capitol' in silver at the top 12 o'clock position.




A full size folded insert explains the behind scenes of After Midnight and the elaborate remastering project.

Every song on this special edition album is a real gem. Absolutely no second-tier material, even the bonus tracks keep it interesting until the end. Nat is indeed the King of the vocals showing tremendous range, richness and refinement with every phrase. I can think of only one other male singer that can conjure up such command of his 'natural instrument' all the while making it sound so effortless and that would be Frank Sinatra. Oddly both were at the top their game at the same period sharing the same label; late fifties to early sixties, Capitol. The Chairman, more extrovert and showman, the King showing more restraint and refinement.
 



The Collins-Harris-Young jazz Trio (not unlike the Baker-Harris-Young trio of the later Philly Sound era) provide the swinging backbone to Nat's piano and vocals chops without discounting the fine solos of alto sax, trumpet, violin and trombone making their appearance. With such classics as "Sweet Lorraine", "Caravan", "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Route 66" in the hands of a Master, you can't possibly go wrong.

The Sound 

 
                                                                                                                   
Recording Engineer John Kraus did a fantastic job capturing the King's voice with great immediacy, natural warmth, huge non clipped dynamics, swinging modulations and no annoying sibilance ("Route 66" excluded); to combine all of these together is extremely difficult and yet he makes it sound so easy. The piano comes out clear in the upper registers, non boxy nor veiled like we often encounter on Van Gelder recordings or some 1950's jazz lp's; nevertheless it lacks the weight and presence of the Real Thing and the realism of the Count Basie "88 Basie Street" album I evaluated in a prior post.

Notice the large diaphragm mike


Enjoying what one does best


The Bass has a nice presence but also shows a slight timidity in the lowest notes. Guitar, alto sax and trumpet exhibit great tone and natural bite. The drum possesses a lively feel with the snare brush revealing great harmonic complexity and see-through density. It's almost sad when one thinks of the immense lack of refinement nowadays in upper octave and general treble reproduction since the early to mid 1980's, the (1983) Basie '88 being the exception to the rule.
 
Nat in a pensive mood in the original control booth
AcousTech Mastering - Now that's what I call serious woofer cone area displacement


Meanwhile in the 'Batcave'... The 'Dynamic Duo' of (Re)Mastering–Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray–have done it once again. Instead of taking the easy road they've painstakingly took great care to go back to the ultimate source the original session tape, not the assembled 'production master' or 'dub master' but the 1/4" mono full track work parts, bringing us closer to the actual event and avenue.

One of the 2 Original Full Track Mono Tapes

Cut at 45rpm at just the right level, not too 'hot' to sound hard nor too low to sound soft, giving us large dynamic burst over a black background and a solid vividness.
 

The team at work
Kevin Gray inspecting the 'Crown Jewel'

As soon as the very first seconds travels up the vibrating cantilever down to the moving speaker cone while "Just You, Just Me" springs to life, you know you're about to experience something very rare: the utter presence of real musicians breathing life in your company. I guarantee it is spooky! The sound is intimate and non-mechanical, i.e. you forget the electronics and the complicated path between the original event captured in time and the reconstruction over half a century later for you in your home at the time of your choosing.
 


I wouldn't qualify the presentation as 'fat mono', rather I keep that attribute more for Monk's Brilliant Corners or Rollins's The Sound of Sonny, both also on Riverside, ditto Hoffman-Gray. Here it's seems narrower, a bit leaner–but not lean per say; faster; lighter. I did a short track comparison between this issue and the previous 33rpm audiophile reissue by Pure Pleasure for sonics. The latter was also excellent and held it's own with a bit more bass and low mids giving the voice a chestier palpability and a weightier Bass (earning a 9.2/10) but the newer 45rpm predictably surpassed the 33rpm for upper harmonic resolution, extension, transparency and dept leaving the general impression of greater dynamics and sheer 'speed', particularly noteworthy on the percussion's in "Caravan". Combining the best of both worlds would have probably pushed it up to a 9.6/10; having to choose only one I'd still go for the 45rpm if price is not a factor.

In the hands and ears of the Pros - Hoffman / Gray - a job well done

In conclusion, artwork quibbles aside, this is one of my favorite record purchases in a long time. Close to perfection in many areas, I consider it one of the most dynamic tape to vinyl transfers in my collection and near the top for traditional pop-jazz vocal for music and sound.

Can't wait to hear more from this wonderful series. 
 
 
 

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RECORD EVALUATIONS ALWAYS IN THE MAKING

Sunday, September 5, 2010

VARIOUS - FOOTLOOSE - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

CBS/Columbia (1984, Jan.)
Canadian 1rst pressing  JS 39242 

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Rating: 3.0/ F

Category: 1980's Pop / Dance Music
Format: 120 gram (or less) vinyl at 33 1/3 rpm

"Footloose" performed & produced by Kenny Loggins
"Let's Hear It For the Boy" performed by Deniece Williams & produced by George Duke
"Holding Out For a Hero" performed by Bonnie Tylor & produced by Jim Steinman
"Dancing in the Sheets" performed by Shalamar & produced by Bill Wolfer
Soundtrack executive producers: Becky Shargo/Dean Pitchford
Album coordinator: Michael Dilbeck
Soundtrack associate producer: Craig Zadan 
Album assembly for Mastering: John Boylan and Stewart Whitmore
Mastering engineer: Wally Traugott at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles
Album assembled at Digital Magnetics, Los Angeles


This is one of the worse front cover 'artwork' I have ever witnessed. It's as if Kevin Bacon (or Kenny Loggins) is constipated. The cheap photo/drawing is grainy and washed out in typical 1980's fuschia. Six snapshots from what is an awful movie adorn the back cover.


The floppy thin–120 gram at most–vinyl is housed in a white semi-waxed inner sleeve containing the lyrics printed on it.


I won't waste too much digital ink or pixels on this record. The reason I devoted any time to it at all and chose it for my third review was to juxtapose it to my first two picks. The 2010 Arcade Fire album was strong musically but uneven and generally poor sonic wise while the Count Basie scored high in both departments while oddly dating from the same year, 1984 as does this soundtrack.


The album comprises the four hits listed above in the credits, the remaining five songs are simply 'filler up' material. Musically they're all crap, the Shalamar track being the least annoying of the lot. The title cut and the Deniece Williams' song are part of my personal TOP 20 CAN'T STAND IT list.  The former gave birth to a nerve wracking line dance while the latter produced a kitsch music video. All share the cheap obnoxious drum machine percussion's and digital synth sounds so rampant of the mid 1980's. Writing and arrangements are so cheesy, they're painfully laughable.

The sound is compressed with a tiny bit of punch in the artificial kick drum but definitely tilted up in the tonal balance rendering hardness and listener fatigue to the mix; this being quite typical of this music period and to a lesser degree often encountered with the Columbia 'signature sound' of the late 1970's on up (original U.S.'s are even more detailed).


The Bonnie Tyler cut is the heaviest sinner in the compression department plus the inner groove distortion doesn't help neither, this one garnering a score of 2.0 at most. The seven inch "Footloose" single was even worse than this album version which has a slightly altered mix; the former exhibiting more compression to yield what at the time was considered a very loud mix. Keep in mind that compared to the previous decade, the '1974 sound value ladder' was quite the opposite in every production aspect. Who could have predicted back then (1984) that 25 or so years in the future, the majority of dance, pop, rock and metal would sink still lower sonic wise in this 'quest for even louder levels!  


SUMMING UP:

Highly recommended as a reference to show visitors what NOT to aim for, followed right after by the Basie 45rpm "88 Basie Street" of the same year to contrast Pure Greatness with Pure Shit.
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DON'T PANIC, MORE DIVERSITY TO COME

Sunday, August 22, 2010

COUNT BASIE & HIS ORCHESTRA - "88 BASIE STREET"

Originally on Pablo  2310-901 (1984)
Reissued by Analogue Productions AJAZ 2310-901 (2003) 

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Rating: 9.5/ A

Category: Jazz / Big Band
Format: vinyl (2x 180g at 45 rpm)

Arranger & Conductor for Big Band sides only: Sam Nestico 
Produced by: Norman Granz
Recorded at: Ocean Way Studios, Hollywood, May 11 and 12, 1983 
Recording Engineer: Allen Sides
Remastered and Lacquer cut by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering
Pressed at: RTI, California, USA
Cover photo by: Phil Stern



A bit of swing history

The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1925
 
The Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1937

A royal flush

Along with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, the Count and his Orchestra must be regarded as one of the great pioneers of the Big Band Era. What the Count lacked in complexity and sophistication when up and against the Duke he more than compensated for in pure swing and Basie blues.

The Count Basie Orchestra with singer Jimmy Rushing in 1943

Starting in the early to mid-1930s, Basie and the Band accompanied by some big names throughout the years like Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Rushing and Frank Sinatra just to name a few kept up swinging for half a century. 

Always the Entertainer

The Pablo years

Here on what is one of his last recordings before his death in 1984, the same year as the original release date, we find him in great shape accompanied by this sixteen member band. With a fine mixture of swinging blues and ballads, "88 Basie Street"–no doubt in reference to the 88 notes on the grand piano–delivers what one might expect from such a classy jazz icon.



The recording of an icon
 

Legendary Audiophile Recording Engineer Allen Sides at the command post

Ocean Way Studio

Recording engineer Allen Sides did a fantastic job capturing the essence and the energy of this terrific Big Band with what must be some mighty impressive equipment, not discounting wonderful acoustics and experienced savoir faire in the art of mike placement and level adjustment. Granted, obtaining excellent sound from a jazz ensemble or Big Band is easier than from a pop or rock group (because of numerous reasons); still it's rare to get everything just so. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Even though this remastering, cut at 45 rpm requires 2 records instead of the original Pablo single LP cut at 331/3rpm, it's quite disappointing that the album jacket is not gatefold and sourced from carton that with time tends to get unglued. In addition, no gloss or premium finish is added which is odd considering the higher price of this limited series. This must be rectified for future 'Top 45' series to insure it's long time collector's value. Despite this, the records are well protected in generic paper with polyvinyl lining sleeves. Both 180g vinyl were black, shiny, flat and silent; with the dead wax starting about an inch from the label perimeter for most sides except the last side at barely half that; in other words perfect.


Side A

Track - 1 

"Bluesville" as the title implies starts things rolling with a slow bluesy swing. Composer and arranger Sam Nestico and The Count opens with a few notes on the piano; the Bass, amplified and 'elastic', accompanied by the light hi-hat, provides a 'sound bed' for the sparse piano intro leading up to the sole muted trumpet. Already with only a minute or so elapsed you know this is going to be a treat for the ears and soul. Soon, smooth saxes followed by powerful anchored trombones enter the picture with their crunchy, brassy tones paving the way for a slow buildup, provided by trumpet fortes plus punchy drum kicks and syncopated snare shots. Together they elevate the 'sound ceiling' to new heights confirming the great dynamic range and transparency of this sound take. Towards the middle, the energy softens temporarily to finally come back in a strong, proud, punchy and dynamic finale.


Track - 2
 
"88 Basie Street" another penned by Sam Nestico is a slow swinging sophisticated ballad.  The classy muted trombones reminiscent of the Dorsey Brothers 'sweet sound' set the stage for the muted saxes and trumpets, every instrument blending to perfection, making it so easy to follow. The delicate piano playing reaching down to the lowest octaves while the 'cushionny' Bass and the precise sound of the drumstick on the hi-hat explores the wide bandwith of this recording.



Side B

Track - 3

"Contractor's Blues", the first of two Basie originals, is a fast uptempo number that intro's with clean upfront descending and ascending piano chords followed shortly by close intimate tenors plus muted trumpets handling the higher register. The drummer's ride and hi-hat pick up the ever growing, swinging boogie woogie vibe. After the saxes have their say, it's time for the one and only Joe Pass, superbly captured on guitar, to take it down a notch to prepare the terrain for Basie to reappear soloing with Pass, comping close behind before the brass take it back up a couple of notches playing harder, turning the riff in one mean jive jump blues machine. Heading towards the coda the party energy decreases to a very close mike intimate feel bringing us inwards and 'waking us' a last time with a forte four bar finale.


Side C

Track - 4

Both pieces on this side are Nestico's originals and arrangements. "The Blues Machine", an uptempo blues, is probably the strongest number on the whole album at least for showcasing the chops and tight cohesion of this 'well oiled' outfit. Starting out quite simply in trio–piano, Bass and hi-hat plus snare establishing the tempo–with the swing feel picking up early on in the tune. You can feel the low end of the keyboard reaching down deep giving incredible dimension and realism to Basie's piano rarely heard on record. The rest just falls into place, the blend of the trumpets, saxes, muted trombones doing their glissandi, very crisp brass 'barking' and  tight syncopated rhythm section. The perfect mellifluous combination of  woodwind and brass, dynamic shading and staccato phrasing creating a wall of sound, powerful but never painful. Tremendous snap from the kick and snare drum 'til the very end. A showstopper for sure.  

Track - 5

"Katy" is a sumptuous ballad rich in sound with grain-free brassy tones, that right from the start, sweeps you off of your seat. Every detail is simply spot on: the Bass always a bit rounded yet articulate and–all too rare–at the perfect level in the mix in turn supporting the floating melody of the muted brass. Outstanding and embracing arrangements coupled with lush, warm and 'earthy grunt' tones permeates the piece. Lots of audiophile goodies in this short gem. Huge dynamic crescendos that seem to have no upper limit. The ride cymbal has a realistic metal resonance which would be so welcome on rock recordings instead of the usual lofi fare we must put up with. The impressive build up culminating in the end, feels like an immersive ocean of sound waves.


Side D

Track - 6

The last track, "Sunday at the Savoy", a Basie original is the only small letdown of the package. Not bad, but definitely less inspiring than the previous numbers. It's a very slow 'dirty' blues with a '3am final set' open-form feel when the joint is empty, not when it's jam packed. Joe Pass is first to solo, the alto takes up on the right with reverb lessening the intimate impact, followed by the tenor on the left and finally the trumpet comes in the center. Overall this one was a bit less dynamic in range and also in intimacy. 9.0/ B at the most.


SUMMING UP

Thanks in part to recording engineer Allen Sides plus the trusted remastering team of Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering and not neglecting all the plating and pressing steps to achieve such an outstanding reissue of reference calibre; Acoustic Sounds' Analogue Productions should be commended highly. The better your system, the bigger the reward soundwise. A definite must have!

This 45 rpm reissue is non compressed or limited, has wide dynamic range, full-range sound, warm richly dense mids reaching deep down in the bass and up to the highest overtones. All tracks had a perfect blend in the mix of the many musicians making every melodic line easy to follow. No listener fatigue whatsoever from beginning to end. Startling, lightning fast kick-ass dynamic drum kit. Although Basie has been generally well served soundwise throughout the years, this is most probably the crème de la crème.


Top 10 All Time for piano weight and realism. Also for articulate, dynamic shading shifts in a drum kit and rhythm section in a jazz Big Band ensemble. In addition for Big Band brassy tone, grandeur, realistic size, panoramic imaging portrayal and intimacy. Crisp and warm at the same time with sweet extended top end and spot on treble detail, level and tonal balance.
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DO NOT DESPAIR - MORE RECORD REVIEWS IN THE MAKING! 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ARCADE FIRE - "THE SUBURBS"

Merge (2010, Aug.)
RIP-V test pressing
Original Canadian pressing MRG 385

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Averaged Rating: 5.0/ B (detailed below)

Category: Indie Rock borrowing liberally from Pop Art meets Electro-Pop 
Format: Vinyl (2 x 180g at 33 1/3 rpm)

Co-produced by the band and Markus Dravs.
Recorded at Petite Église in Farnham, Magic Shop in New York, Studio Frisson in Montréal, Public Hi-Fi in Austin and various bedrooms, living rooms and basements in Montréal.
Mixed at Studio Frisson in Montréal.
Tracking on 24-track analog tape mixed on a vintage 1940's tube console.
Recorded by Mark Lawson, Additional Recording by Marcus Paquin, Don Murnaghan & Noah Goldstein
Mixed by Craig Silvey & Arcade Fire, Additional Mixing by Nick Launay
Mastering engineer unknown
Master lacquer cut by Ray Janos at Sterling Sound N.Y.
Pressed at RIP-V in Saint-Lambert, Québec, Canada
For the CD and dig. files, each song was mastered and cut on it's individual 12 inch lacquer to be transferred to digital to make the CD master. Now that's what I call dedication to the cause of vinyl and analog sound.
Album Artwork Design by Caroline Robert.


Just on the heels of sweeping up four awards at The Junos and winning 'Album of the Year' last February 2011 at The Grammy's, I thought it timely to offer this review for those still sitting on the fences. So buckle up for a ride in "The Suburbs".

 
The album cover artwork is elegant with a light gloss to it. The back cover is really classy with the silver letters engraved on the dark background; you can't help but want to touch it.  The rigid carton opens in two, each record housed individually in it's carton sleeve with no inner plastic film to protect the grooves.

 
Both 180g slabs of vinyl were flat and perfectly silent throughout the four sides which is promising for this relatively young pressing plant. Indeed it is fairly rare these days that one encounters not even one 'tick' or 'pop' on a double LP from what is considered an 'idependent' rather than an 'audiophile' label. I would say it's in the same league as RTI in the U.S. and Pallas in Germany as far as being noise-free.

 
I'll start off by saying I wasn't an Arcade Fire fan before listening to this album nor do I now consider myself a convert to the 'second coming'--if I adhere to all the hype coming from the main music press--but will say I genuinely liked it and kind of grew into it after a few plays. I find it's a mature album, strong and inspiring in musical content and in vision. Sadly such is definitely not the case sound wise. This is truly unfortunate because it robs the power from what could have been a powerful album. And because it's so unequal in sound we don't have a choice but to analyze it track by track.

 
Track 1 - Rating: 8.5/ A

The opening track "The Suburbs" makes a great entree and impression with a strange mixture of melancholy and 'happy-go-lucky', reminiscent of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds intertwined with a hint of Pixies "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and REM's "Losing My Religion". The sound is just slightly compressed with deep enough lows creating a nice foundation, good detail on the strumming acoustic guitar, good ambience, big high soundstage plus a sweeping crescendo towards the end that segues into the next track. So up to this point I was quite enthusiastic, preparing myself for some great artistic/sonic splendor but then...


Track 2 - Rating: 3.0/ B

horrors of horrors it all fell apart. The heavy compression made the sound bright, the guitars distorted--i.e. the recording of it, not the musician's own amp--which made the whole thing too loud so I had to get up and lower the volume. The latter is always very frustrating, for it breaks the mood & defies the 'original intent' of the producer or musicians by which I'm guessing was to sound more intense than the previous lighter song. So not surprisingly, listener fatigue set in a short time, too bad 'cause the song possessed a good catchy riff.
A word of advice, heavy compression and hard limiting is not the solution, it is the problem!  It makes you sound loud, thin & wimpy instead of powerful, big & menacing. In the end we'll just turn down the level, skip to the next track or shut the damn thing off.


Track 3 - Rating: 7.0/ B+

"Modern Man" is a great little song in the Pixies mold a la "Here Comes Your Man" not only in form but sound also. Good punchy kick drum on the warmish intimate side. Less compressed, less loud & slightly less distorted. A relief after the previous one. Was there a glimmer of hope after all?...


Track 4 - Rating: 1.5/ D

NOOOO..."Rococo".  MUCH TOO COMPRESSED, distortion on acoustic guitar, sibilance on vocal. The last half of the song gets louder still, with even heavier compression and a 'crescendo' of distortion causing listener fatigue so I lowered the volume. Simply unbearable.

On to 


Track 5 - Rating: 2.5/ B+

The pace shifts into higher gear with "Empty Room" as the torch is passed for the first time from Win to Régine with great energy. Once again compression shows it's ugly head making the track too loud. The lack of bass gives it an up tilted tonal balance as we segue into ...


Track 6 - Rating: 1.0/ E

...worse with NO BASS WHATSOEVER! Only things left are the very compressed exposed mids & highs.  Like the song says it feels/sounds like a "Private Prison". The listener fatigue was at the max making a convincing argument for a quality remote control attenuator (which unfortunately is not an option with my present preamp). Coincidentally this sonic low point is matched by the less inspiring song, music wise also. To think that back in 1984, I figured we'd pretty much reached 'rock bottom' in sound with the release of "Girl Just Want To Have Fun" and "Footloose"; I guess nobody can rightly predict the future.


Track 7 - Rating: 1.5/ D

Musically repetitive, not much more interesting than the previous track. Heavy compression, distortion, overly bright, no lows. Even with the volume closed, with my ear next to the stylus in the rotating groove, I could easily detect the distortion! Once again this is not artistic distortion as Radiohead employs now and then, juxtaposed with cleaner sounds for 'contrast' effect.


Track 8 - Rating: 2.5/ C

Opens with a 4/4 electro-pop kick which brings a welcome relief that reassures us that the percs are not totally forgotten in the mix. Drawing from early 1980's Simple Minds/Human League territory; some low chords help but too bad again too distorted. Probably around 15 to 20 % signal distortion the whole tune! Listener fatigue of course.

So Side 2 was worse overall than Side 1 effectively making it the most objectionable of the four. Because of the exaggerated compression and distortion, I had to stop my evaluation at the end of Record 1 and resume Record 2 the following day to let my ears recuperate from this assault that eventually could lead to 'hard ear' syndrome. I'm not joking.

Win & Régine

Track 9 - Rating: 4.5/ B+ 

Good keyboard on this excellent new wave/cold wave/early 1980's electro-pop rhythm, marred by too much compression & annoying brightness. Because the guitar is too loud, the vocal gets lost a bit in the mix. Staying faithful to the concept form; just like Side 1 & Side 2, the first song segues into the second.


Track 10 - Rating: 7.5/ B+

Strangely but nicely done we are transported to what feels like a simpler place & time by way of a folksy 'Americana' vibe. At last we're spoiled with some good bass and less compression. As you can imagine, it's quite welcomed.


Track 11 - Rating: 5.0/ B

Here 'echo's of  "Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite!" off of Sgt. Peppers can be felt.  Compressed but at the limit of tolerable but also gets worse as the song progresses.


Track 12 - Rating: 6.0/ B+

Introduced by the piano followed by syncopated beats. Synth chords add to the ambiance ending with the piano playing a single note in perpetuity like an infinite echo sliding into the dead wax; too bad they didn't cut an endless groove.

Musically, Side 3 is up to now the strongest; with a more even, though far from, great sound.


Track 13 - Rating: 8.0/ B+

Radiohead-influenced with a sad reflective mood. Floating clean sound.


Track 14 - Rating: 7.0/ B

Change of ambiance with Régine singing in an uplifting '1980's Kate Bush' mode plus some male backing adding a nice touch. Starts off with kick drum plus nice very deep lows, giving it a very early 1980's electro feel. A bit of compression but good tonal balance compensates.


Track 15 - Rating: 5.0/ B

"Suberban War" gives a hint of Springsteen/Tom Petty. Smooth sound, nice tonal balance.  Less compressed at first but last half gets quite louder and distorts, weighting down the rating.


Track 16 - Rating: 8.0/ B

The album ends with the continuation of "The Suburbs" this time they both sing with synth accompanying them in the background. Finally we are greeted by superb powerful deep notes.

So an equally strong side confirming that Record 2 is musically more inspiring & consistent in sound than Record 1. 


SUMMING UP

What I find really awful for the band is that they obviously went to so much trouble and money no doubt to merge (no pun intended) the wonders of the past--tubes, analog tape, lacquer, vinyl--with the present multi format 'web era' we live in but end up with subpar sonic glory. What they forgot or didn't know perhaps is that heavy compression was not part of the golden era of tubes & wax, rather it is 'the cancer' of our era.

In retrospect when you think about it, it's not surprising that the album varies so much in sound (1.0 to 8.5), just count the number of  locations and engineers that contributed to this 'jack in the box' outcome: no less than 4 studios (church included), not to forget the various apartment rooms and 6 engineers; too many cooks in the kitchen is often a recipe for disaster. Even more so when you're creating a concept album where preserving a unified sound is more important than a 'compilation of singles' with no sound correlation.

Of course this review won't make a dent in sales nor take away their well earned musical praise from the mainstream, simply because most music critics and--let's admit it--people in general, just don't care about sound quality. But fortunately for you, dear reader, here at soundevaluations we do care.

To conclude Arcade Fire's 3rd effort "The Suburbs" is musically satisfying and recommended strictly on this basis, but definitely stay away from a sonic perspective.
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