Fall Album Preview: 25 Upcoming Records & The People Behind Them

September 5, 2013 by  

Summer’s over, back to business. There’s a looooong list of records en route from studios and labels around the country due to drop over the next couple months. Here’s our quick-hit list of anticipated releases with as many production details as we could muster.

September

Australian grunge band, Violent Soho, released their Hungry Ghost LP this week on I Oh You Records. The album was produced by producer Bryce Moorhead (who the band calls “Brisbane’s Steve Albini), and mixed by John Agnello at Fluxivity in Williamsburg. Stream “Covered in Chrome” and get the album at iTunes.

Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys

Awkward” the latest single from Mom+Pop punk rockers FIDLAR will be available September 8. The track was produced by Rob Schnapf and engineered by Chris Szczech at Kingsize Soundlabs in LA.

Arctic Monkeys new album, AM, is out Sep. 10 in the U.S. via Domino Records. It was produced by James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) and co-produced by Ross Orton at Sage & Sound Recording in Los Angeles and Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree. Hear R U Mine and Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High…and the entire album stream on iTunes!

The Weeknd‘s anticipated Trilogy followup, Kiss Land, drops Sep. 10 on Universal Republic. Production was handled by frontman Abel Tesfaye, along with producers Danny Boy Styles and DaHeala and features mixing from Manny Marroquin (Larrabee Studios) and Mark “Spike” Stent. Joe LaPorta mastered the album at Sterling Sound. Stream Kiss Land over at NPR!

Holy Ghost!‘s new album Dynamics comes out Sep. 10 via DFA Records. The album was produced by Holy Ghost and mixed by Chris Zane at DFA Studio in NYC. Hear album opener “Okay“.

New York indie-rock band Forest Fire also has a new record coming via Fat Cat on 9/10 as well. Screens was co-produced/engineered and mixed by Jonathan Schenke — recorded at Fat Cat’s studio, Tree Time, in the Hudson Valley, with overdubs and mixing happening at Doctor Wu’s in Brooklyn, and mastering by Alan Douches at West West Side Music. Check out the advance single, “Waiting In The Night”, below…

Look out for a new EP by synth-rock band Magic Man via Neon Gold Records/Columbia on Sep. 10 . Stream the song “Every Day” which debuted this week. The band apparently has a full-length album on the way as well. Both releases were mixed by Alex Aldi and mastered by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering in Brooklyn.

A couple other notable Australian rock bands, Papa vs. Pretty and The Naked and Famous, have new music rolling out in September…

“My Life Is Yours”, the first single off Papa vs. Pretty’s new album White Deer Park – produced and engineered by Dave Trumfio in Los Angeles – will be available September 13, with the album due out in February via EMI. And the new full-length by synth-rockers, The Naked and Famous, In Rolling Waves, will arrive Sep. 17 via Universal Republic. The band recorded the album with Billy Bush at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, mixed with Alan Moulder at his Assault & Battery in the UK and mastered with Joe LaPorta at Sterling in New York. Hear album single “Hearts Like Ours“.

MGMT will unearth their new album Sep. 17 via Columbia Records. Oracular Spectacular producer Dave Fridmann re-grouped with the band for the upcoming eponymous album at his Tarbox Road Studios in Cassadaga, NY. Stream album opener “Alien Days” and check out the epic album trailer here.

Alt-country singer Tift Merritt and pedal steel/guitar Eric Haywood (The Pretenders, Ray LaMontagne) recorded an acoustic album, Traveling Companion, a bonus disc that will accompany the deluxe edition of Merritt’s Traveling Alone (out Sep. 17 on Yep Roc). The 10-song LP was recorded and mixed at Mason Jar Music in Brooklyn by Dan Knobler & Jon Seale.

Drake / Nothing Was The Same / Sep. 24 / Cash Money Records

Drake’s Nothing Was The Same / Cash Money Republic Records (9/24)

The new Drake album Nothing Was The Same will finally arrive on Sep. 24 via Cash Money / Republic Records. Largely produced and engineered by longtime engineer Noah “40″ Shebib — in part out of Metalworks Studios outside Toronto – Nothing features production by Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, Hudson Mowhawke and Mike WiLL Made It and collaborations with Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, James Blake and more.

Stream “Hold On, We’re Going Home” feat. and produced by OVO Sound‘s Majid Jordan, and co-produced by Nineteen85, and Noah “40″ Shebib.

NYC via DC post-hardcore veterans Girls Against Boys will release a new EP, The Ghost List, on Sep. 24 via Epitonic Records. GVSB member and mixer/producer Eli Janney produced and mixed the EP with Geoff Sanoff co-producing. Download an album single, “It’s a Diamond Life“.

And southern rockers Kings of Leon are set to drop Mechanical Bull Sep. 24 on RCA. The album was recorded at Kings of Leon’s own studio in Nashville (“Neon Leon”), with James Brown engineering and longtime producer Angelo Petraglia at the helm. Brown mixed the album at Blackbird Studio.

And the much-anticipated debut LP by L.A. sister-pop band, HAIM, Days Are Gone, comes out on Columbia Sep. 30. Listen to “The Wire” below. The album was recorded in Los Angeles, with producers Ariel Rechtshaid and James Ford, with some sessions engineered by Jimmy Robertson out of Kingsize Soundlabs. Tom Elmhirst mixed tracks for the album out of his studio at Electric Lady, and it was mastered at The Lodge by Emily Lazar, assisted by Rich Morales.

October

On the first of the month, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts will release Unvarnished, on Blackheart Records. Jett’s first record since 2006, and 14th album with The Blackhearts, the album was recorded largely at Germano Studios in New York, with Kenny Laguna producing and Thom Panunzio engineering, and will reportedly contributions from Dave Grohl and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!

Sleigh Bells‘ new album, Bitter Rivals, drops Oct. 8 via Mom + Pop. The record was produced by the band’s Derek Miller and mixed by Los Angeles-based engineer Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, fun.). Watch the video for the title track below.

St. Lucia will release a new record, When The Night (Oct. 8) on Neon Gold / Columbia Records. St. Lucia’s Jean-Philip Grobler produced the album, with additional production by Chris Zane, and mixing by Zane, Andy Baldwin and Rich Costey. Greg Calbi mastered the album at Sterling Sound.

Also due out Oct. 8 is the new EP by highly-worth-checking-out Brooklyn rock band Parquet CourtsTally All the Things That You Broke was recorded at Seaside Lounge with producer/engineer Jonathan Schenke, who also mixed the album at Doctor Wu’s in Williamsburg. The EP will be released via What’s Your Rupture? Stream the opener, “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now“.

NY/LA artist/producers Prefuse 73 and Teebs have teamed up to make a new album under the “Sons of the Morning” moniker. Mixed by Prefuse 73 and mastered by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering in Brooklyn, Speak Soon (Volume One) comes out in September on Yellow Year Records.

The new Pusha T album, My Name is My Name, is slated for an Oct. 8 release on G.O.O.D. / Def Jam and features a superstar line-up of producers and feature spots. Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, The-Dream, Don Cannon and Swizz Beats are among the album’s producers, with Kanye and Pharrell also guesting on the record, along with Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown, 2 Chainz and Future. Engineers on the record include Noah Goldstein and Dave Rowland (at Germano Studios), with additional music provided by Brent Kolatalo and Ken Lewis out of Full Time Dreamer Studio.

A$AP Mob are prepping a new album to be released Oct. 15 on Sony, with producer and engineer Daniel Lynas. The group is working out of Polo Grounds‘ private studio. Lynas has also been working with A$AP Rocky on his upcoming instrumental record, Beauty & The Beast: Slowed Down Sessions Vol. 1.

Cults / Static / Columbia

Cults’ Static / Columbia (Oct. 15)

NYC indie-pop duo Cults return with Static Oct. 15 via Columbia. Hear album single “High Road“. Follin and Oblivion produced the album with help from producer/engineers Shane Stoneback (Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend) and Ben Allen (Washed Out, Animal Collective).

Indie-folk band The Head and the Heart will put out its sophomore album on Sub Pop, Let’s Be Still (Oct. 15). Peter Katis mixed and did additional recording and production for the album out of his Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT. Listen to “Shake” off the record here.

Gates, a post-rock band from New Brunswick, will re-release their album, You Are All You Have To Fear, Oct. 22 on Pure Noise Records. The album was mixed and mastered by Mike Watts out at Vudu Studios on Long Island.

Arcade Fire‘s new record, Reflektor, comes out October 29 on Merge Records. The band was said to be working on the album with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and out of DFA Studio in NYC.

Austin rockers White Denim bring forth their Corsicana Lemonade on Downtown Records. The album was tracked in Texas with Jim Vollentine in a converted house-studio and also at Wilco’s Loft in Chicago, featuring some production and mixing from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and engineer Tom Schick. The record was mastered by Joe LaPorta at Sterling Sound.

And we’ll see the debut album by Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws as Minor Alps. The album, Get There, was co-produced and recorded by Tom Beaujour at his Nuthouse Recording in Hoboken (now located inside the Water Music complex), and mixed by John Agnello at Fluxivity in Williamsburg. Barsuk will put out the record. Check out the soft-and-sweet first track off the album, “Buried Plans”:

November will see long-awaited new albums by M.I.A. (Matangi, 11/5 on N.E.E.T./Interscope) — hear an advance track “Come Walk With Me” — which includes production by Hit-Boy, Switch, Surkin, M.I.A., So Japan, and Danja; Eminem (MMLP2, 11/5 on Shady Records) — which will feature production by Rick Rubin, No ID, DJ Khalil and Dr. Dre; and Lady Gaga (Artpop, 11/11 on Interscope) featuring production by Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow among others. But more on all that in a later post…

 

Freelance Whales’ Shane Stoneback-Produced “Diluvia” Out In October

August 22, 2012 by  

It’s an all-NYC effort with the upcoming full-length Diluvia by Freelance Whales, due out in October.

Shane Stoneback produced and mixed the upcoming full-length from Freelance Whales.

The five-piece collective from Queens recorded with NYC-based producer/engineer Shane Stoneback  (Sleigh Bells, Cults, Vampire Weekend) in his Brooklyn studio, Treefort Recording. From there, the tracks moved over to Manhattan, where his SSL 4000 G+-equipped SMT Studios was the HQ for mixing.

To top it off, Diluvia is being released October 9th on the New York City-record labels Mom & Pop/Frenchkiss.

Judging by the strength of the first single, “Spitting Image” (which you can stream here on NPR), Freelance Whales and Stoneback are a dynamite musical match.

The sounds of this song are big, beautiful, and inspiring, while infused with the producer’s own distinctive infusion of raw/rocking/gorgeous energy. “It’s a great new color palette for the band,” says Stoneback.

“The Audio Mechanic” by Jason Finkel: Editing and Mixing Drums

August 10, 2011 by  

Have you heard the expression; “You can’t polish a turd”? I remember the first time I heard it. I was sitting in Studio C at Battery Studios with Shane Stoneback working on a live track for a major pop star that — to put it nicely — was going to require some work.

Meet your audio mechanic: Jason Finkel.

Shane turned to me and dropped the famous line. This always stuck with me as a challenge. “Why can’t you polish it? How bad does it have to be?”

My name is Jason Finkel: I am a producer, mixer, engineer and part time new music blogger in Brooklyn, NYC. For the last 10 years I’ve seen how far you can take out-of-time, out-of-tune, over-written, under-produced, and poorly recorded tracks.  I have found many ways to overhaul broken recordings and even more ways to record better the first time.

Over the next few months I’m going to share some of these ideas so if all you have is a rehearsal space and a few mics, you’ll get better results and see some simple ways to manipulate whatever came out a bit brown.

OK, a little background info. I came out of the NYC large studio system that mostly does not exist anymore. I worked at the previously mentioned Battery Studios with superstar pop-divas, boy bands and almost everyone in hip-hop. I worked at Right Track with icons like Mariah Carey, Gwen Stefani, Rod Stewart, and James Taylor, to namedrop more than a few.

The point is these were hardly budget sessions. I once ran Pro Tools for an 80+ person orchestra plus drums, guitars, and bass for engineer Frank Filipetti and producer Phil Ramone with Clive Davis looking over my shoulder. I was well versed in no-holds-barred recording. When I left Right Track to start my own production company with little funds, I had to learn quickly how to incorporate my own ideas of professional techniques into less-than-perfect recording situations.

So let’s get started by taking a look at mixing tracks that have already been recorded. The subject: CHAPPO’s “Come Home”, a track that was recorded in an apartment in Brooklyn that ended up in an Apple iPod commercial.

During the summer of 2009 I stumbled into Don Pedro’s in Williamsburg and caught the middle of one of CHAPPO’s sets. It was a psych-rock explosion in my face. I knew exactly how they needed to sound. I immediately wanted to work with them.

After a few months of back and forth I found myself with their Garageband-recorded EP in my studio. My task was to just mix the EP. Simple right? Well, I certainty was not going to get off that easy. Zac Colwell (Jupiter One, Fancy Colors) had recorded/produced the EP in the band’s apartment using a few mics and fewer inputs. He had done a great job, but I had a few ideas that were going to require a little more flexibility and a lot more time. After transferring all the raw unprocessed tracks to my Pro Tools HD rig from GB, I got to work. For the first post I’m going to go over mixing the drums. Let get technical.

PART ONE: MIXING DRUMS

I like to pull up all the tracks and see what a song is doing right at the beginning of a mix, but after I have a clear vision for the track, I like to start with drums. The drums for all the songs on the EP were recorded on three separate tracks: kick, snare, and a mono overhead.

Sometimes having a mono overhead is great because it sits up the middle leaving space for big guitars/synths or for whatever left and right. Moreover, if you’re going to use a spaced pair and not an XY it can get real weird if you don’t know what you’re doing or can’t monitor correctly. Not to mention it’s another microphone, microphone pre, and input that you may or may not have.

SWEAT THE EDIT

First, I edited the feel of the drum performance. Now, quantizing drums definitely has a stigma and I would much rather work with tracks that felt great on the day of tracking, but anything less than that is going to get cut. If the rhythm section has a weird feel it’s really going to have a negative effect for the listener despite how good the song may be.

One thing that can be helpful when editing is to listen to the bass or another rhythmic element to see if it has a better feel and cut the drums to that. If I am using a click to record a band live, I try to let only the drummer hear the click so the band plays with each other. If I am only mixing then who knows how it was recorded. If the bass player was listening to the click then maybe his feel is the best for the song.

Just remember, editing drums in an already completed track is like moving the basement in a six-story building, the other levels may collapse, so listen to the other instruments and try to determine what the best course of action is.

Let’s get back to the track. I used Beat Detective to drop markers and then went through the track hit by hit to make sure the markers were at the tops of each drum hit, high hat hit, and cymbal strike and were directed to the right destination point. This may sound tedious, but trying to figure out where your track is out of time or not noticing your tom roll is off the intended beat after you have moved things is way more time-consuming. Measure twice cut once.

After I processed the edits, I listened back to make sure no transients were clipped and there was not any weird double attacks from incorrect cross fades.

Check out this video for an audible demo of the change in feel. If you notice, I only squeezed the performance tighter, I did not edit it hard to a grid:

 

SELECTING SAMPLES

After the drums were nice and tight I added samples. Yes, that’s right… samples. Remember, we are trying to fix a recording that does not meet the needs of the vision for the end product. The recorded sound of the drums was fine but it was not going to satisfy the vision I had for “Come Home”.

Try to think of samples as both EQ and Compression without having to do either initially. Choose a sample that will fix what the recorded drum is lacking — not by the sound of the sample. If the original snare is tubby then choose a sample heavy on attack or vice versa. The trick is to preserve the best part of the original recorded drum and not try to eliminate it. The consistent level of a sample when balanced with the original also helps to average out the combined level, limiting the dynamics of the drum.

Another great aspect of using samples is the ability to send them to reverb, delays, or other effects without annoying cymbal bleed. In this track’s case, the apartment did not provide the luxury of a nice tracking room’s ambience, so having the extra control to create a believable fake space was helpful. I also heavily gated the snare samples and original leaving just the attack. This allowed me to utilize the mono overhead for the tail of the snare, which gave the whole kit more believability.

Here is how I add the samples: I always go through a track by hand, tabbing to transient, and pasting samples. There are a bunch of programs that claim to do it for you, but in my experience, something always gets messed up. I then have to go and fix it, so instead I just go through manually — that way, I know it’s correct. I often audition samples in the first few bars and then, when I find ones that work, finish the song. With some practice you can drop samples to a drum track in a three minute song before the song can play out. It’s really not that difficult. On a typical track I can use anywhere from one to four samples per drum. I have worked on some mainstream records that have used way more than that.

Don’t get phased by phase.

PHASE CRAZE

I want to briefly touch on the topic of phase cancellation. Phase is a deep topic that could have its own column, but to oversimplify: If an instrument is equal distance from two mics that are facing each other, those mics will be 180 degrees out of phase and when summed together can cause major-to-complete cancellation of sound. Pretty much any two microphones pointed at the same instrument that are not perfectly aligned are, to some extent, out of phase. That’s going to make it difficult to have nice drums, let alone big drums.

The solution? Start with the kick, snare, or tom and solo the track. If you have multiple tracks for that drum, solo the first, then solo the additional track and flip the phase of either. Does it sound fuller…more low-end response? More attack? Does it sound worse? Go back and forth. It might not be obvious at first. Repeat with the next drum (generally any under-the-snare or tom mics should always be flipped out of phase). Then solo the overheads and see if they are in phase with each drum individually. Try the rooms and each drum as well. Flip the samples too. They may sit better in the mix.

It might be a puzzle to get the best combination but it will be worth it. Both kick samples in “Come Home” sounded better out of phase.

READY FOR THE FUN STUFF! DYNAMICS, ETC…

Now we have fixed the feel, corrected for whatever couldn’t be captured in tracking and made sure all the elements work together. Now it’s time to focus in on your balances, grab some EQ’s, some compressors and limiters…and maybe some more compressors and make those drums explode! It should be easier to work with now.

Check this movie I made demonstrating how I incorporated some of these topics to create the drum sound in “Come Home”:

Jason Finkel works between speakers all day in his Brooklyn, NYC mix studio, 4A.  Check his website for contact/info and follow his new music blog This Music Doesn’t Suck.

Behind The Release: “Cults”

August 9, 2011 by  

Before Sony’s Columbia record label picked up the Brooklyn band Cults, they made do with a spare Bandcamp page and a text-only website to list upcoming shows.

Cults' Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion

Bloggers world-round seemed to marvel at the band’s ability to ignite industry interest without Facebook and Myspace – much like the rest of us wonder how we were ever able to meet at a pre-designated time and place before cellphones existed.

(Hint: Being good at what they do and having ties to the industry didn’t hurt.)

At their best, Cults offer simple, unpretentious, catchy pop tunes with a startlingly-retro production sensibility.

It’s a sound that’s novel and familiar at once, playing on the ear like a cross between The Ronnettes and Peter Bjorn and John.

We talked at length with co-producer and engineer Shane Stoneback who used a combination of vintage and modern tools to help the band craft huge, hazy, reverb-drenched mixes to complement their casually-cultivated air of mystery.

STONEBACK’S STORY

“Are you looking for work? Because I just fired somebody 30 minutes ago.”

The man facing Shane Stoneback was a large one, heavy-set and imposing. He carried a sandwich in one hand and a microphone in the other.

Stoneback, who would go on to work with Cults, Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, F*d Up, and The Magic Kids, told a fateful lie: He said yes.

“Good. I’m going to sit in the lounge and eat this sandwich.’’ The studio manager passed him a Neumann U87 with his other hand. “By the time I come back, have this up so I can hear it in the headphones.”

The year was 1999. Stoneback was on vacation, visiting New York City from Minneapolis where he already had an entry-level job at recording studio.

In what he would later consider “a naïve move,” Stoneback had thumbed through the alphabetical Recording Industry Source Book; making phone calls, hoping to secure a quick tour at one of New York’s flagship studios.

Shane Stoneback at SMT Studios, NYC.

By the time he got to the letter “B”, someone said yes. He found himself in Battery Studios, the home of Jive records, being asked if he wanted a job.

‘This was in their C-room,” says Stoneback. “They had a digital Euphonix console in there. I never would have been able to figure that thing out in time, but I plugged the mic in, and somehow, I heard the headphones click. Whoever used the room before me hadn’t disconnected anything yet! That was it. I got the job and I never came back from vacation.”

If you ask Shane Stoneback about it, he’ll tell you he’s just a lucky guy.

From that encounter, he ended up working for Jive records during its heyday. The experience afforded him what he considers an “amazing pop training,” assisting on sessions with the biggest selling pop-artists of the day: Britney Spears. Backstreet Boys. ‘N Sync.

When Zomba Corporation (and in turn, Jive) was bought out by Sony, their Battery recording studios closed down. Again, Stoneback says he got lucky: He was unemployed for an afternoon. That once sandwich-toting manager had lined him up with a job at a post-production house called Sound One, where he would help veteran film mixers learn their new Pro Tools systems.

But to say it was all luck would discount the 8-hours Stoneback would put in each night after the studio closed up each evening. After hours, he spent his time recording whatever interesting local bands he could find.

“They had a closet full of LA-2A’s and old Neve components – all this stuff that was just kind of old and irrelevant in their work.  I got to put some of this stuff into a series of road cases and wheel it all into the studio at night. And they were cool about it, as long as in the morning, the place looked like a post-production room again.”

He’d meet Vampire Weekend through colleague Jeff Curtin (Those Darlins’, Vampire Weekend, Small Black). Sensing they were set to make waves, he “dropped everything” to help them finish their record at Treefort recording, the new Brooklyn studio he had started to build.

That band would go on to receive rave reviews, immense popularity, wide notoriety, and a healthy dose of media backlash. (More on that later.)

From then on, Stoneback was keyed into a world of novel and emerging NYC artists, and into the rolodexes of label executives.

“If you get one legitimate credit under your belt,” says Stoneback ,”it kind of spirals into all these other projects from there.”

CULTS

When Stoneback met Cults, they already had a sound. Two songs on an internet web page had been all it took to get the right people talking. They called Stoneback, not to reinvent their sound, but to reinforce it.

Cults' eponymous debut, released on Columbia Records, June 2011.

“Ultimately, we didn’t change much from the original demos,” Stoneback says of the songs that had already made waves.

“We re-recorded one or two things, maybe even tried some new vocals, but in the end it was pretty clear there was some kind of magic about those tracks already.”

“I did go back into the mixes to beef them up a little bit – Just to make them slightly more modern-sounding.”

“As much as there’s this late-50s/early-60s girl-group aesthetic that’s so obvious, a lot of the songs have these almost Outkast-style hip-hop beats underneath them. So I’d add a little bit of low end to each of the mixes, maybe a little more smack to the snare, so they’d have this sort of strange duality of a 50s girl-group with a secret club-banger element going on underneath.”

When listening, it’s easy to imagine the Cults LP as being faithfully captured with vintage equipment and then amped-up with more modern tools. But much of the time it turns out, the opposite approach was at play.

TOOLS, TWEAKS, AND TONES

“I have this old Silvertone amp [model 1472] that’s just beat to sh*t. People call it the ‘TV amp’ because of the way it looks. It’s just a small combo amp with two channels that you can kind of hot-rod together. It’s got a really simple tube circuit and a slightly torn speaker that adds to that kind of broken magic quality. I’ve used it on almost every record I’ve done.”

“That was a big part of the keyboard sounds. A lot of those sounds were coming off of a really modern sounding keyboard – a software version of an FM-synthesizer really. But with that amp, it all came back sounding really vintage and authentic.”

Similarly, vocals were recorded to a DAW through a modern-sounding microphone, then degraded to become an almost-impressionistic exaggeration of an old-school sound.

The team decided early on that, although the albums should ultimately feel more like a collection of songs recorded on different dates with different setups, they’d stick with the main kick and snare sound songwriter and co-producer Brian Oblivion created for their demos. Even when they recorded live drum tracks, they would reinforce them with the kick and snare sounds that had originally come come from a drum machine on Oblivion’s computer.

To sonically warp the voice, drums and instruments, Stoneback used Roland Space Echo extensively – not as a delay, but as a sound-shaping tool.

[For those who aren't familiar with it, the Space Echo is a vintage effects box that uses a small tape cartridge to deliver delay effects. Some of the later models feature a spring reverb, even chorus. This one did not -Ed.]

Stoneback would set the unit for a quick, single repeat. But   instead of combining the output of the Space Echo with the original sound to achieve a traditional slap-back delay, he would record the tape-delayed signal into Pro Tools, and slide it back in time to replace the original sound.

“It’s kind of like a tape plugin but with all the genuine foibles of tape. And there’s really no worse tape machine than a Space Echo!” Stoneback laughs.

“I mean the quality is just asinine. But it was perfect. The first time I tried it out as a test, [the band] just loved it. It probably wouldn’t stack well if you wanted to record 9 tracks of vocals. There could be a lot of buildup in one [frequency range] .. Maybe, 2k[Hz]. But for this it was great.”

The work was tedious he says, but worth it:

“The Space Echo tapes have these little splices on them. So if you play it all the way through you’ll hear a glitch each time the tape comes around. I’d have to do 2 passes, knowing that statistically speaking, the hiccup probably wouldn’t happen in the same place twice. Then we’d have to combine those passes together.”

“You couldn’t combine it with the original take [in parallel]. The tapes move at such an inconsistent speed that the phasing is just unbearable. On some places though, you can hear that effect on a stereo source. On certain things, it was  a complication we learned to love and didn’t see it as a flaw. Stereo drums, things like that – what they gained from the character of the machine made up for the phase issues completely – it just gave them a really unique sound.”

And it’s perceptible. There are times that the stereo field of the record has a sound that’s huge, hazy and deliberately “sloppy” in the best sense.

THE BIG WASH

Reverb benefited from a similar approach:

“For the demos, the band had been using a reverb plugin in Logic, and had become pretty attached to it. At first I tried making my own version of it with the rack gear I had or with my own plugins, but they just weren’t really feeling it.”

“I ended up bringing a lot of the vocal tracks into Logic to use that particular plugin, and then export the reverb tracks back into Pro Tools, just because that’s what I use, kind of as a default.”

But Stoneback wanted more out of the sound:

“There’s a whole cinder-block basement [below Treefort]. When we were building it, the wiring guy had run a few tie-lines down there, so one day, just for the hell of it, I set up a JBL Eon [a self-powered PA monitor -Ed.], and put a mic near the top of the stairway.”

“It’s not going to go down in the annals of history as one of New York’s great reverb chambers or something, but running the plugin reverb into that – it just came back sounding so much more legit. Once there’s actual air pressure moving around in the room it just makes everything sound so much better.”

“We also used the Space Echo as kind of a pre-delay going into the chamber, with a repeating slapback to get a little more out of the reflections down there. That’s a pretty classic trick that [60s girl-group producer] Phil Spector would use to milk a little more time out of a reverb chamber.”

Since then, Stoneback has continued to use his basement chamber on almost every record in some capacity, and he now has plans to build it out to make it a more flexible space, using microphones mounted on motorized camera tripods to  allow him to change reverb settings in real-time.

He says he’s happy to hear how warmly the reverb sounds on the Cults record have been received. He can remember 3 long days of work spent making sure they were going in the right direction with ambiance alone. But he insists what people are hearing is more than a microphone, a few wire patches, and the turn of a knob.

“Really, a lot of the character of the vocal is just the way [singer] Madeline [Follin] sounds. I’ll give you one example: There’s a vamp in the final chorus of “You Know What I Mean” where she modulates up a key. That’s one of the coolest vocal moments on the record, and there’s nothing being done with switches and knobs; it’s just the way she leans into it, really hard. The gear reacts to that, not the other way around. That part is so special because of the way she sang it.”

Now that he’s worked with so many musicians who’ve convinced others they’re doing something worth hearing (and at such a young age) we asked if there was a common thread that tied them all together.

“No,” he laughs. “Absolutely not. They’re all so different.”

Then he adds: “Brian was [studying film and] taking some music and technology program at NYU. If you’ve ever been to one of those, you get the feeling that a lot of kids will record some stuff for class, you know, to turn in the assignment. They’ve got their social lives going on and all that. But with Brian, I know he would just run home to record – to try things out with Madeline.”

“And I will say that a lot of [the people I've worked with],in their most honest moments, they want to be successful. Not in a sleazy  ‘cha-ching’ kind of way. But when they make a record, they want people to hear it. They need that as an artist, to feel that real connection to an audience. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it?”

We also asked Stoneback if his early training with bubblegum divas and boy bands has ever been a liability with hip Brooklyn bands or edgier artists like Sleigh Bells and F*d Up.

Again, a quick “No.”

“If anything, they’re hoping I’ll bring some of that to the table. I make no secret that it’s my desire to bring some of the most pop elements out of their music. None of them are ashamed of it, they encourage it. Even the work I did with a band like  F*d up – I think that’s about as pop as that band can sound. Little things, like the levels of vocal-to-snare, panning choices, that kind of thing. Clients are hoping to reap some benefit from that.”

And he has been instrumental in helping some bands find that wider audience. In moments, Cults have come close to risking the kind of backlash engendered by fellow Stoneback clients, Vampire Weekend.

So far, they seem to have escaped the worst of it. Perhaps because they’ve avoided over-exposure, and maybe because they’ve avoided their predecessor’s mistake of making public comments that would make them appear obnoxiously entitled, and culturally sheltered, to many fans and critics.

But to Stoneback, a little bit of controversy isn’t always a bad thing. It can even help a band find its audience. Of Vampire Weekend, he says:

“Any successful circuit has to have polarity to work – positive and negative – and they had that.”

“There were positive and negative things beaming out of that whole thing from the first moment. Maybe universal acceptance would have created a short-lived kind of success. But that polarity required people to not just write it off as some summertime jam, or some irrelevant crap. Eventually, people kind of realized that this is a band that’s gonna be around for a while.”

“It was funny – there were as many people writing about what kind of clothes [Vampire Weekend] were wearing as there were people writing about their music. I kind of just thought to myself ‘Oh no! Is this what these kids are gonna have to go through?’  But of course [that won't be all]. They’re a great band, especially live. That’s pretty rare, and hard to ignore.”

There are already echoes of that story in Cults, although on a smaller scale. Time will tell how they play out the rest.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who works with uncommon artists, and a journalist who writes about music and how we make it. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.

Record Release Roundup: Spring 2011

June 16, 2011 by  

Brooklyn correspondent Justin Colletti listens to new releases every day of the week except Sunday. Here, he shares the twelve Spring releases that best broke through the noise and captured his imagination.

1. Booker T.  Jones – The Road From Memphis

From 1962 to 1970, Booker T. served as one of the essential sidemen who helped shape the sound of classic soul and R&B. As part of Stax’s integrated house band he played back-up for Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, and Sam and Dave. As bandleader for the MGs, he brought instrumentals to the top of the charts with the iconic cut “Green Onions.”

Booker T. Jones "The Road From Memphis" (May 2011, Anti- Records)

Jones’ latest effort, The Road From Memphis is a rootsy hybrid of hip hop, funk, and soul that makes the rock/fusion hybrid of his GRAMMY-winning 2009 release Potato Hole sound gimmicky by comparison.

Even with his name on the cover, Jones maintains the soul of a sideman. His playing is casual, relaxed, almost conversational, as he cooks through a cover of Gnarles’ Barkley’s “Crazy” on the Hammond B3, or supports Sharon Jones on an original tune.

There’s little musical grandstanding on this record, which features an all-star band of ace musicians who stay firmly rooted in-pocket throughout.

The Road From Memphis was produced by ?uestlove of the Roots and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith). It was recorded by Gabe Roth of Daptone (interviewed here over the winter), and features guest performances from Sharon Jones, Lou Reed, Matt Berninger of the National, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

Watch the album preview (with studio footage and interviews).

2. Dennis Coffey: Controlled Aggression

Here’s a release that reminds us why we should never look to television or glossy magazines for music recommendations. Although you might not think it by the looks of him, Dennis Coffey will melt your face off with the funk.

When he’s not busy swapping fashion tips with George Costanza or posing to reassure you he’d do a great job adjusting your tax returns, Coffey leads a double life as a former guitarist for Motown, and the man behind the steaming new release Controlled Aggression.

Thanks to the good graces of the internet, this unlikely gem of a record doesn’t have to go undiscovered. Click the link below to hear the track “Space Traveller,” selected as NPR’s song of the day on May 31st.

When listening, don’t be afraid to turn up your speakers. Not only does this cut feature an old-school sensibility when it comes to musicianship, it features a refreshing lack of the aggressive over-mastering that’s had musiophiles up in arms for more than a decade. In a welcome blast from the past, the louder you crank this record, the better it sounds.

Listen to “Space Traveller” at NPR.

3. Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts

Thurston Moore "Demolished Thoughts" (May 2011, Matador Records)

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore had a new release last month. This largely acoustic, gracefully orchestrated collection of songs was produced by Beck for Matador Records, and has music geeks across Generations X and Y asking, “Where the hell was this record when I was a teenager?”

In some ways, Demolished Thoughts is Moore’s equivalent to Beck’s Sea Change. Although much of this record is as wizened and reserved as Beck’s navel-gazing opus, the tone of Demolished Thoughts remains notably less melancholy than that easy touchstone.

Arrangements are generally sparse and intimate, with subdued strings that are startlingly pretty and never overwhelming. On the production end, the album’s tone is spacious and milky, unafraid to stay just a little boxy and decidedly natural.

Listen here…

4. Kate Bush: Director’s Cut

If you’re a Kate Bush fan who’s disconcerted by musical revisionism, you may have mixed feelings about Director’s Cut. On this album Bush revisits and revamps songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes.

Unlike Brian Wilson’s 2004 revisit of the Smile sessions however, it’s doubtful any of these re-interpretations will be accused of ruining old favorites. Bush’s voice has stayed strong, and some of these cuts improve on the source material, which is largely culled from The Red Shoes, an album generally considered to be one of her weaker efforts.

After years of trying, Bush finally obtained permission to re-appropriate Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from the James Joyce’s novel Ulysses as the lyrics for this album’s opening track. It’s unusual to hear a woman of fifty-three take on some of the overtly sensual themes that drive the opening tracks on this record, but she does so with an effortless, unconcerned grace that belies her age.

So, is it worth listening? For those who are not yet fans, the now-classic 1985 album Hounds of Love is probably still a better place to start. (Like, yesterday.) For the already initiated? It’s definitely something to hear.

Listen here…

5. Eddie Vedder: Ukulele Songs

Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder has come out with a solo album. It consists exclusively of him playing songs he wrote for the ukulele.

Eddie Vedder "Ukulele Songs" (May 2011, Universal Music)

Diehard fans of Vedder’s voice are likely to connect with the album’s intimate and un-ironic delivery. The rest of us could always use good excuse to gawk slack-jawed at our computers for a few minutes, wondering if our eyes are fooling us, so Vedder’s Ukulele Songs occupies slot 5 on our roundup of interesting spring releases.

But, is it good?

For a solo album that almost exclusively consists of Eddie Vedder playing songs he wrote for the ukulele, sure, it’s absolutely the best one I’ve ever heard.

How about compared to the rest of music throughout recorded history?

Well, it’s less weird than you might expect, and features strong, naked performances from a distinctive singer that you probably really love or can’t stand at all.

As for a rating? No matter which camp you fall in, Ukulele Songs is an odd, but well-realized effort that stands somewhere between the transcendent (Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” “Kind of Blue,” the first four Black Sabbath albums) and the laughably mediocre (Bruce Willis’ solo record, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Christmas album, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”).

Listen to “Can’t Keep” off Ukulele Songs…

6. Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

There’s a good chance you heard about it when the Beastie Boys dropped a new album last month. If you missed it, you still have a chance to stream it below.

It’s all too easy to harbor low expectations for any album this far into the band’s career, but once again, the ‘Boys refuse to disappoint: “Hot Sauce Committee” plays out like the Beasties of Check Your Head meeting up with the Beasties of Hello Nasty to compare notes.

Although some disinterest can be expected from early fans whose tastes have changed over the decades, this record is sure to please the ears of anyone still ready for more high-powered and irreverent jams from America’s favorite bratty-New-York-whiteboys-turned-socially-conscious-hip-hop-all-stars.

Listen here…

7. Alfonso Velez: Alfonso Velez

Alfonso Velez is a stunning and rare find: an undiscovered Singer/Songwriter worth watching out for.

Mere moments into “Teddy,” the first cut on Velez’s self-titled LP, I found myself slack-jawed, remarking aloud: “Wow. Dude can sing.” Songs here feel like real performances, unfolding stories that sound refreshingly human and open up over time.

With a production aesthetic that’s informed by The Flaming Lips and Radiohead as much as it is by The Beatles and James Taylor, Marc Alan Goodman’s mixes on Alfonso Velez balance the organic with the epic, the subdued with the sublime.

Listen here…

8. Cults: Cults

Any journalist writing about Brooklyn-based band Cults is obligated to marvel over their “un-googleable name” and (historically) limited presence on social media.

Cults self-titled debut (June 2011, Columbia Records)

Up until Sony picked up the band in response to the extravagant media buzz that surrounded their debut 7”, the band subsisted with a spare Bandcamp page and a text-only website that listed upcoming shows.

Bloggers marveled over their ability to ignite interest sans Facebook and Myspace, much like the rest of us wonder how we were ever able to meet in public at a pre-designated time before cellphones.

Blog-buzz aside, Cults are easily one of the more compelling new artists to release an album this spring.

Their sound is somewhere between the Ronnettes and Peter Bjorn and John. Co-producer and engineer Shane Stoneback provides giganticlly cloudy, reverb-drenched mixes that complement their casually cultivated air of mystery.

At their best, Cults offer simple, unpretentious, catchy pop tunes with a startlingly retro production aesthetic. After repeated listens there’s some question as to whether there’s a ton of substance behind the style. In the meantime, the style they do have is somewhat substantive in itself and thankfully, it’s of the sonic, rather than visual variety.

Listen here…

9. Sondre Lerche: Sondre Lerche

Earlier this year, we visited Rare Book Room Studios in Greenpoint to spend an afternoon with producer Nicolas Vernhes and Norwegian-born songwriter Sondre Lerche.

Vernhes, who’s explored distinctive and sometimes jarring sounds with Dirty Projectors, Black Dice, and Deerhunter, might seem like an unexpected choice for Lerche, an artist best known for his easy charm and earnest pop sensibility.

With Verhnes at the board and Kato Ådland co-producing, Lerche is able to embrace sonic colors in a more raw state than ever before. The new material is mature: both accessible and unusual, friendly to a casual listener, but challenging enough to attract a new kind of audience.

10. Here We Go Magic: The January EP

Here We Go Magic "The January (March 2011, Secretly Canadian)

On this record pillowy textures and contrapuntal rhythms form a blurred bed of sound for Here We Go Magic songwriter Luke Temple’s ephemeral, high-reaching vocals.

From the first plodding bass notes of the opener “Tulip,” Here We Go Magic’s newest release doles out twenty-one minutes of big, fat chamber pop.

It’s dense, atmospheric, ambitious, and invites comparisons to some of the innovative work by Caribou and Grizzly Bear, or the most forward-thinking moments of 60s cult favorites The Zombies.

Like Pigeons before it, The January (covered here in May),  stands a far cry from Temple’s sparse solo effort on HWGM’s self-titled debut. The January serves a satisfying soup of sound that asks for repeat listening and suggests an unexpected expanse of space between the speakers.

Listen to “Hands in the Sky” off The January here:HERE

11. Hotels: On The Casino Floor

Since I’ve taken it on to write about the twelve albums this Spring that at least broke through the noise, and at best, captured my imagination, it would be dishonest to leave the Seattle band Hotels off this list, even if I have worked with them on prior releases.

Hotels has a new album On The Casino Floor, and, associations aside, I think you should hear it. They’re easily among my favorite bands playing today.

If band names like Devo, Black Sabbath, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Wipers and New Order randomly strung together in a sentence holds any appeal to you, this is the offbeat, electronic, post-punk, synth-heavy surf-rock band for you.

Listen here…

12. Bon Iver: Bon Iver

Bon Iver's self-titled sophomore album (June 2011, Jagjaguwar)

Is it just me, or do self-titled releases seem like a growing trend this year? If I had something profound to say about artists declaring their identity in a culture of fleeting interest I would. Until then: Gee. What’s that shiny thing?

Fans of the sleepiest moments of Iron & Wine and TV On The Radio may enjoy Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore effort. This is music that’s sometimes unusual, and perhaps more pleasant than it is engrossing.

Atmospheric, moody, bold-yet-unobtrusive, the laconic Bon Iver is a thoroughly well-realized album, even if it occasionally bores this reviewer to the point where he forgets he’s even listening to it.

Listen here…

Lady Gaga and the Great Race to Cloud Storage

In other news, you may have caught wind that Lady GaGa’s label was so afraid her sophomore album would fail to make waves, they decided to effectively bribe fans into buying it. Hawking the entire record for $0.99 and giving away 40 GB of storage on Amazon’s new cloud server, they managed to sell 1.5 million copies in total, including a reported 750,000 at the $0.99 cheaper-than-free price point.

If you haven’t yet seen the video for the lead single “Born This Way,” don’t worry. You’ll be fine.

GaGa takes post-modern pastiche to a fever pitch of ADD, referencing more often and more directly than Family Guy. The only problem is that it’s rarely funny (at least not on purpose) and she staunchly refuses to admit to her influences, unlike the early post-modern pop-master, Beck.

Fittingly, GaGa’s latest video begins with music that isn’t even hers. The video version of “Born This Way” opens with Bernard Hermann’s classic score to the Hitchcock thriller Vertigo, which she somehow makes sucky by adding some comically pretentious narration and half-baked visual imagery culled from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

To her credit, GaGa has the theater of music down to a certain degree. She’s followed the playbooks of Freddie Mercury, Madonna, and Britney Spears, but forgot the rule about occasionally putting out an inventive song. Even Britney had “Toxic.”

Once the actual music kicks in, the problem is not that it’s awful. Rather, it’s amazingly plain – befuddlingly mediocre. The actual single serves as a remarkably bland backdrop to over-the-top visuals that are generally too racy for children and at times too vapid for self-respecting adults.

Those who maintain that her first record featured a few worthy pop songs obscured by a questionable production aesthetic will be disappointed to find nothing here to approach even that level of “interesting.” When listened to with any seriousness, “Born This Way” makes Cher’s most questionable 80s moments seem hip and current.

For the few who have cast GaGa as a secret champion of counter-culture, this release continues to reframe hers as work that panders to the easily entertained rather than suggesting a shred of the subversive.

At best, GaGa may have been able to achieve a level of insta-kitsch to rival John Waters. Only this time, it’s by accident.    – Justin Colletti

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who works with uncommon artists, and a journalist who writes about music and how we make it. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.

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