Scissor Lock / Cassius Select – Split E.P.

I can’t stop spinning this new 12″ – the final to be released from the excellent DIY collective The Finer Things. They had an exceptional run over the last couple of years with some excellently memorable, unique gigs and some great releases. Can’t wait to see what the collective members do next as I’m sure there’ll be plenty to come.

But onto the music – a split from long time buddies Marcus Whale (of Collarbones) and Lavurn Lee (also performs as Guerre), who have collaborated previously in a variety of other guises including the near-debaucherously brilliant Black Vanilla.

Marcus’ side is a slow, meditative journey with dramatic, intensifying atmosphere, slow beats and obscured vocal textures, while Lavurn is slowly reconciling his signature vocals back into the relatively abstract world of Cassius Select’s shuffling, uptempo beat framework.

Buy the vinyl. It’s an extremely limited run, sounds phenomenal and it deserves to be treasured in many collections.

Purchase / stream at Bandcamp

Catcall: a victim of the loudness war?

To preface this blog post I want to be extremely clear that this is not Catcall backlash. I think Catherine’s an extraordinarily talented songwriter and Swimming Pool is one of my favourite Sydney songs of the last couple of years.

I’ll also clarify that I’m not a sound engineer and merely have a punter’s knowledge of the below but I think what I’m saying below is correct. I’ll happily take discussion and feedback on board. If you think I’m wrong, do tell me. At any rate this is something that I felt strongly about as I listened to the music, above and beyond any other record I’ve listened to in recent history.

~~~

Catcall’s album was shipped after literally years of anticipation and I congratulate her and her label on shipping the complete work at last. It seems to have got some great reviews and responses to date.

Today I went in for my first listen through of the album. It’s one thing to watch the videos, hear the songs on the radio and catch the hooks floating around the interwebs, but it’s an entirely different matter to sit down in front of your speakers (or headphones), put the album on from start to finish, and digest the detail.

To be honest, I freaked out a bit. For all the detail in the album – liquid guitar lines, woozy atmospheric synths, layers of multitracked voices and economical drum patterns – it’s killed by the fact that the album is so damn loud.

This isn’t a mixing issue (I don’t think), it’s a mastering issue. And it gave me a headache listening through from start to finish and I began to wonder “is it just me? is there something wrong with my gear?” because I found myself wincing on every kick drum and many of the snare hits as they seemed to clip. And the dynamics were relentless. SO LOUD. ALL THE TIME. IT NEVER STOPS. That’s not to say the songs are without dynamics, just the mastering.

Was it just me? Surely it had to be. Would Ivy League Records do this to an album that was supposed to be an intelligent take on retro-referencing pop? It doesn’t deserve to be subjected to the injustices of the mainstream pop music market.

Sidenote: if you haven’t caught up on the Loudness War, read this very insightful take on it and then read the Wikipedia article. I think by-and-large we’re past the worst of this terrible treatment of music – I think? – as most record releases seem to not be so bad in this respect but ultra-loud records still persist in some places, particularly in Top 40 music.

So I decided to fire up “The World Is Ours” and make sure it wasn’t my speakers dying on me or me having a bad day. I kind of hoped it was, to be honest.

Unfortunately, this is what I saw:

I think if you have any passing interest in music you’ll “get” dynamics – music has loud bits and soft bits, and that’s what aides the tension and release that makes songs great. This song has dynamics, but you wouldn’t know it judging from how loud the master is. Which means that even though the tune backs off in the verses and crescendos and climaxes for the chorus, you don’t really get that so much from a loudness point-of-view.

On almost every kick drum, things are insane. It’s so loud from a digital point of view. Not as flattened out as the worst examples, but far from pleasant.

And to zoom further on a transient:

 <– :-O

Typically 2-3 samples at a time, in this case 6, but they definitely all seem to totally max out and it results in the peak being squashed into digital distortion (aka clipping). Even not factoring that, the volume extremity is intense. It just don’t feel right.

Clipping aside: I don’t know if anything can be done about it now, but it just makes me so damn depressed when I really find it an intense and overwhelming battle to listen to something that really wasn’t intended to feel that way at all.

Given independent music isn’t playing the games of Top 40 (the need to be the loudest song on the radio), I’m not sure why we need to play these games. Can’t we just turn it down a notch?

Update #1: there’s been a bit of really interesting discussion about this on my personal Facebook, with many perspectives voiced. worth a read.

Update #2: Sean A Reminder asked a really valid question, which was “what if they want top 40 radio play?” – two things in response to that:
1. is the observation made by Rich in the comments below about how it can actually work against the single’s playback on radio.
2. is the current US #1 single three weeks running (Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know):

That’s a work of art. Doesn’t appear to have hurt his success either!

Snakeface – Oberon

This is going to be one of my albums of the year. Just listen to it.

It’s primal, it’s raw, it’s a little savage, yet it’s all gloriously fun. It contains a vast array of hardcore and punk influences from all decades, plus a tangible sense of Australian identity that feels neither contrived or forced, nor cringeworthy. I like it abundantly.

Telafonica – Heartbeatings For Those With Heartbeats remix

Telafonica cover

Hello!

If you’re still reading this… well, thanks for not deleting me from your RSS reader. I still have dreams of resurrecting this blog, and one day it will hopefully happen.

Usually in the past I’ve posted here when I’ve done music work and I’m still active in that capacity from time to time – but I just realised I never noted the remix I did for Telafonica. They’re an amazing Sydney band who I’ve mentioned before a long time ago and have since become good friends.

They recently released an album called Sleeping With The Fishermen, which is excellent. The release occurred alongside a (very) ambitious project to release a remix EP for every track on the album once a month. The number of incredible Sydney acts that turned out to release it was staggering – featuring names like Scissor Lock, Jono Boulet, Option Command, Dave McCormack, Sounds Like Sunset and many more.

Amongst that very impressive list of artists is little ol’ me. I hadn’t finished a remix in a long while, so this kind of came from nowhere. Had a huge amount of fun actually: turning up the monitors super loud and make a lot of noise around a really wonderful melody.

Have a listen, see what you reckon! But listen to the others too, because they’re better.

The Gate update

For anyone that’s been keeping a casual eye on what we’ve been doing with The Gate via this blog, just wanted to give you a heads-up that I’ll no longer be posting updates on that project here.

If you’re keen to stay connected with what’s happening in that universe, I recommend heading over and following The Gate’s tumblr. We’ve already announced a couple of new projects in the last couple of weeks and, all going well, we should have plenty more to talk about in the not-too-distant future!

Tropics – Soft Vision

Just the tiniest bit addicted to this tune from Tropics (a.k.a. Chris Ward) at the moment – an instrumental that fuses some lovely introspective ambience with a big 80s synth-pop underpinning. The video is very much a classic woozy psychedelic treatment – didn’t really add a lot to the track in my opinion, but enjoy the tune.

His Soft Vision EP contains three tracks, all very worthwhile and each exploring different territory – so I heartily commend taking advantage of the strong Aussie dollar and scoring a cheap download (AUD$4 at the time of writing) or 12″ copy of the tunes.

I hear word that an LP is not far away, so keep your ears open for new stuff from this universe. I’m expecting good things.

The Gate Presents: Live in the Front Yard

Merry Christmas! I’m normally a complete grinch at this time of year, but I’m shedding my seasonal curmudgeonly ways and getting into the spirit of giving. And blogging, for that matter! (don’t fall off your chair)

We’ve just released a video series of acoustic live performances called “Live in the Front Yard“, featuring The Paper Scissors, Valar, Tash Parker and Lessons In Time. The performances were shot in between soundchecks before our last show at The Gate. Masterfully directed by Matt Davis, they’re some wonderful performances by some wonderful acts that you owe it to yourself to get amongst. Enjoy!


The Paper Scissors

Ghoul – 3Mark

Ghoul are back and I couldn’t be more excited. They’ve had a prolonged hibernation, surfacing for a show here and there but generally not doing too much to draw attention to themselves. I get the impression this has been due to some substantial labour being directed towards their followup to 2008′s A Mouthful Of Gold mini-album (which I loved)

“3Mark” is the second taste from their upcoming mini-album Dunks, which apparently will be out in January 2011. The first – Milkily – was a quirky, jagged tune which was solid but left me guessing which direction the band was heading in.

This new tune is bigger, more confident, more streamlined – and definitely more accessible than anything heard from the band prior. It also comes across as something of a genre study: someone has definitely been listening to Burial, as many of that artist’s hallmarks are present, including the syncopated rhythmic shuffles, his muted ambient stabs, and the pitch-shifted vocals. This isn’t a diss – the track wholly works, but the arrangement definitely bears a strong imprint of its influences. Giving this tune some distinction is a big, live-band middle 8 and outro which provides a nice pay-off to the song’s otherwise murky groove.

All of this said, I love the tune, even with it wearing the influences on its sleeve. What the song doesn’t give, however, is any more of a definite idea of what the Ghoul’s new “sound” actually looks like as a whole. We’ve heard two vastly different tunes so far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what fills out the picture.

Also interesting is Ghoul taking a step on from their ardently DIY methods seen with their last release – the band have signed with Speak N Spell Records, have managers and bookings agents in the picture and generally look intent on taking things to the next level. I’m hoping it really pays off for the guys.

Listen

The Gate Goes Chill

We’ve had some overwhelmingly amazing gigs at The Gate in the last few months – I’m very grateful to both bands and punters for making the events special. Having got a few nights under our belt, though, we’ve decided to make sure we don’t quickly settle into just doing the same old thing every month.

So – for October, instead of our usual live music event in the evening, we’ve decided to have a go at a daytime, all-afternoon BBQ all based around the little musically minded community that seems to have emerged around the venue.

To set the tone of the day we’ve called on some people with a reputation for fine musical tastes to DJ at the event, meaning you get awesome food and an opportunity to hear a wide variety of music both old and new.

Come and chill!

The Gate Goes Chill
October 30th, 1-7pm
$5 donation includes all day BBQ
RSVP and information here

With sets by:
Telafonica DJs //
Andrew Maxam (from Liquid Electric on FBi Radio) //
Philippe Perez (from The Band Next Door on 2SER) //
DJ Jez //

Valar

Valar appeared on my radar a couple of months back, and having now seen them live a couple of times in the time since, they’ve become firmly fixed on my “band to watch” list. They’ve just released a short live performance film that very compelling makes a case for why you should, too.

This 6 and a half minute clip features two songs, and highlights all of the band’s trademarks: meticulous yet sparse songcraft, poignancy, and a very candid, genuine sense of human frailty. Impressively, the entire performance was recorded old-school: just two mics in the centre of a room – a gutsy move, giving the band little opportunity for editing or post-production trickery, so you’re definitely hearing the live performance without much happening between the recording and you.

The clip was gorgeously shot using a four camera setup all manned by Matt Davis in a pristine, church-like setting. Obviously a lot of attention to detail has gone into making sure the space really comes alive, and it all pays off wonderfully.

The band recorded an EP earlier this year entitled We Have A Home Amongst The Trees, which is available as a digital download or handmade 10″ vinyl from Bandcamp.