Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Look! A Distraction!

Be warned, dear readers: this post will be long, drawn out, boring, and, on occasion, only slightly interesting. If you're just a really dedicated reader (pfffttt... do they exist for this blog?), and you feel the need to read EVERY SINGLE RUDDY WORD I put on here (this is just entertaining me now), then go on ahead. If, however, you prefer your sanity, RUN! GO! QUICKLY! GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!
But before you do, here's a video that isn't related to anything regarding this post...

These guys were on Sullivan with The Beatles. Believe it.

It is advised that only the brave continue from this point.
If he could, Reginald Kitty would leave. Don't ask him, or he'll advise it.

Hi, Brave People!

Yes, yes, enough malarkey. I have wasted enough of your precious time, blah, blah.
(Please, forgive me. I've been properly caffeinated, and I'm in a rather silly mood.)
We're going to talk about music today. Yes, it isn't much of a surprise, considering we do that quite often here, but I think it's only fair to give you warning when it's going to happen. That way, if you've chickened out, you can take the "special" exit, like when little kids go through a haunted house and immediately make a big fuss (it's really just the staff exit, but the kid will forever be scarred by the man with the chainsaw that jumped out of that dark corner).
Maybe you remember I mentioned a few months back that, if you dig deep enough, you'll find decent modern music out there (I suggest you refresh your memory on that particular post, 'cause it may help you understand a little bit of what we're talking about). Personally, I've really got to dig, but I'm picky about what I put in my brainbucket (it doesn't show, does it?). When I do eventually find something that fits into the "fab, gear, really swingin'" category (ask my mother, I say that phrase often), I get a little excited. The prospect that there's something out there that's being produced now, that hasn't been wrapped up, shut down, or finite, is something I don't experience often.
That, coupled with my love of the iTunes equalizer presets really is the basis of the discussion today.
To be honest, I find that, in writing this post, I am overcome with the feeling that I've finally lost my rabbity babbity noodlehatch. There are bats in my belfry, and the men in their pretty white coats will be coming right away.

We've dawdled enough, let's get down to business.

It literally took me a month to figure out what presets worked best for the individual songs on this album. It simultaneously drove me bonkers, and kept me happily entertained for that long. Pages and pages of notes with hastily made monkey scribbles in margins about what may or may not sound better, hours of checking, and many flip-flop, Kerry-esque decisions were involved.
As you can see, it was somewhat of a similar process as the Beatles Remasters; make notes, possibly with an image key (yeah, I did, sue me), and try to draw conclusions as best my wittle ears can.
In looking at my cleaned up, "let's make sure this is what we want" notes, I see that I only used two presets: bass reducer, and spoken word. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying the others, though. I think a few of them were on vocal booster and flat for a trial period, but it just didn't work out. By the time I got to the "let's make sure this is what we want" notes, I was ready to drop kick a sound mixer, though. It's his job to make sure a vocal can be heard, not mine; just short of getting one of those programs that breaks a song down track by track (do they even make those for home computers? You know, that would remix songs from CD, rather than master tapes?), I think this is the best I'm going to get. But if anyone ever meets this Mr. Jeremy Weatby, give him a decent smack upside the head from me.
Getting revenge on sound mixers aside, this album was incredibly fun to play with, and to keep listening to.
Of course, the more you listen, the more you start to wonder... considering their early material, is this their natural progression, or are they just impressionable kids? Let's delve into that for a few minutes.
Their spiffy little single? The one that drew minimal attention in the US because Emma Watson starred in the video?

That song, which did fairly well, considering there was little air play (shameless self-promotion via the Internet earned them a first week place in the charts), though my introduction to this gear little band, was not what grabbed my attention.
I sat and watched the video, and, as I have a tendency to do when watching a music video, the actual music was secondary (I don't know why, but I'll either watch the video, or listen to the music, usually never both at the same time). Since it starts off with a little too much keyboard for my liking, I paid more attention to the people in the video, first off. When I saw their little mod helmet hair cuts, their black drainpipe trousers, and, least we forget, those Beatle-esque boots (I add the "-esque" purely because not all of their footwear had the flamenco heel, and I'm very picky about that sort of thing)... I made the post-it note in my head to look them up. This newer material was a little too modern for me, but the blokes performing it were presented more like 21st century mods than those electric-pop standards fit. One might say I judged the book by it's cover. Sue me.
I was incredibly surprised when this was the first song I turned up in my own YouTube search...

As you can hear, it's a tad bit different in it's make-up, compared to their latest single (in this older track, I notice a bit more vocal layering, and less keyboard, for a start; then again, I also played with the presets for that album, but that's another post entirely).
Further proof that, while the potential is there, at the core of it all, they're still impressionable kids. They're enjoying recording in amazing studios in Brussels, playing festivals, and doing mini headlining tours. In the process, they want the material to get better, and will take advice from the "older and wiser" set (I'm laying the blame on their producer, but that's just me). They, apparently, are not aware of the Padgham effect. As explained by a fellow McCartney fan:
"Press to Play suffered from what I call the 'Hugh Padgham' effect. I noted this at the time and still believe it to be true.
Recruiting this supposedly hip 'modern' producer had disastrous commercial effects for a number of artists in the mid eighties....
Paul Young - riding on the back of massive success with his previous album - ditches his old producer, Laurie Latham, and had has a big flop with Between Two Fires - producer Hugh Padgham!
Paul McCartney riding high on success of George Martin collaborations (yes Broadstreet was a success in the UK at least) ditches Mr Martin and had a big flop with Press To Play - producer Hugh Padgham!
Even Sting whose first two solo albums had different producers went back to his old producer from The Police days and had a flop album - The Soul Cages - producer Hugh Padgham!
The moral of the story is don't recruit this man when you think you need to do something 'different' with the production of your new album!!

I shall also mention that, twenty-some years later, Padgham's material is so incredibly dated that it fits the stereotype for the decade perfectly.
(For a grab bag of love and hate for Mr. Padgham, have a look at some of these Paul forums.)
How this Padgham effect works in regards to One Night Only is incredibly simple.
Their debut album, Started A Fire (seemingly a tick in the positive column, produced by U2 favorite, Steve Lillywhite), placed at number ten in the British charts, earning them a gold record, and a number one single (I was also disturbingly entertained by the fact that this particular album was recorded in the St. John's Wood area of London... such proximity to Abbey Road!).
This eponymous effort, with a different producer (big on that fantastically cheezy 80's sound), if I recall correctly, limped them into the UK Top 40 at number thirty-six, and their single debuted at number twenty-three.
As I listened to this latest release, I wondered to myself why on God's green earth you would purposefully try to replicate that awful 80's sound (never been an 80's fan, which was problematic when my sister lived at home, as she has always kept some sort of 80's mix tape around)?
About half-way through my first listen, I realized they were replicating - dare I say it - the music my generation grew up hearing on pop radio. Just a few years my senior, these guys also remember when that tinny, electric-drummy, cheezy lyrics and vocals style was getting ample airplay (mixed in with an occasional Oasis or Nirvana track, but that's a different story). Once I figured that out, I realized it shouldn't have been such a surprise to me. It also creeped me out a bit, but we won't get into that right now. Ill-spent childhoods aside, if you dig into the material deep enough, you can find the writers in there, buried under the trend. I'm still not sold that this was their natural progression, rather, their influence at this time.
I realize, of course, that the resurgence in interest regarding this sound is considered fresh and hip at the moment, but it, too, will end up dating itself.
Somehow, though, that's the beauty of emerging artists, or, the danger that these boys are in, the dreaded "One-Hit Wonder" zone; they put so much of themselves into the album that never goes anywhere. It's like each track is a melancholy love song to the success they so desperately chase. It's not that the material isn't worthy of the fanfare, it's just that it's not properly marketed. Guaranteed, if Brian Epstein would have gotten hold of these kids, they'd already be in record shops here (of course, Brian could sell you just about anything... the man was a marketing genius). They've got the potential, and they've got the foresight to use the Internet as their greatest self-marketing tool; in this day and age, if they've got the will to communicate with their fan base directly, rather than indirectly, they've got an edge, a +1 card to their contemporaries.
I particularly enjoyed their latest installment...

Couple drivel like this with a lot of promotion, and you've got yourself a proper band.

I hear tell that they're going to try and break the States in 2011, so that will certainly be interesting to follow. As quoted from an interview with their frontman last month: "America is the focus next year. Records labels are interested...and the girls love a British accent." (See, Seester? Even they know their assets are marketable! Isn't it terrible to realize your little sister was right? But I wuff you!)
There is also an acoustic EP of some of this newer material in the pipeline, and that will certainly help boost sales. Folks do love their acoustic (and, let's be honest, I'm one of them... it isn't my fault, my sister played a lot of Simon and Garfunkel when I was small). I know I love to see the difference in the bare, stripped down versions (since, in essence, it's how most songs start out), compared to the electrified finished products. Sometimes, the acoustic is just incredible, and you wonder why it was pumped up at all (George Harrison, I'm lookin' at you), but most of the time, you'll go back to the final product.
Would you like an illustrated example?
Well, pretend.

The album version of their next single, "Chemistry" (they shot a video for it a couple of months ago, but it hasn't seen the light of day yet; I suspect they're saving their singles for their supposed album re-launch in February)...

If you're curious, my copy is set at spoken word. It brought the vocals forward, and toned down the brash cymbals; the con, of course, is that you lose a little bit of the richness of the original mix, but I'll risk it to hear the vocal right up at the front.

...in comparison with this stripped down, bare bones, acoustic guitar and vocals only version...

Try not to fall in love with it too much, though; I have a feeling that, if this were to appear on their EP (and, let's be honest, it probably will), it would end up more like this...

If this is a good indication of North Yorkshire (I'm more familiar with West Yorkshire), it's a lot like Virginia... all the more reason to get there, so far as I'm concerned!

And each of those versions has a little something different to offer. Is it the power of music, or the material? Who knows.

So, even though it's not the sound that originally grabbed my attention, it's still a lot of fun.
By the way, if you're into free music (and who isn't?!), when you sign up for their newsletter (which you can always mark as spam, if you aren't into newsletters clogging up your email), you can download a track from the album. I had a lot of fun with it before the record was released, so if you'd like a sample, head on over to their website and have a ball (I set my copy to spoken word, if you want to see what direction I took it)!
While you're at it, if you're interested, a decent chunk of video was recorded as they made this album; check it out at their YouTube channel. You'll find goodies like this (alas, this particular one was an iTunes UK exclusive... hell, I had to import the album as it was, and here they got extras!)...

I may or may not have stopped the video at the 2:16 time stamp when I first saw it, just so I could drool over the acoustic/electric John Lennon Signature Epiphone guitar he was using. Somewhere, the fact that I don't play guitar, but recognize the beauty of that instrument, will make me cool.

All this talk of modern music aside, at the end of the night, I always go back to that old time rock 'n' roll...

It's like I told my sister the other day: every girl needs a distraction.
Reginald Kitty thinks you should have left when you had the chance. Naughty Reginald Kitty!

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