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  1. #1
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
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    Feb 2004
    on some faraway beach...

    Half Gone with the new Shearwater

    What's been the standout new release for you this year? Or maybe just favorite discovery if you haven't heard a bunch of new stuff?

    Just got the brand new one from Shearwater, Rook, and after only a couple listens, must say that it's gonna take something pretty special to keep this away from the top of my favorite 2008 records ... if it turns out to be as good in the long run as it seems right now.

    Quasi-title track Rooks mp3 (4.7 M) has been out for a couple months from Matador (and there is a 192k zip of the entire record easily found too), but that song is just a quick snapshot from a varied emotional trip. If you're a fan of Palo Santo (and by extension the Jeff Buckley and Talk Talk and Mark Hollis and Radiohead), this one is probably even better. CD is a little louder than it should be like the Matador remaster of Palo Santo, so definitely plan to also grab the much better sounding vinyl. I love reading about how records are made, and there are some fun recording notes from Matthew Barnhart below about the sessions for Rook. Shearwater is apparently putting on some amazing shows in support ...



    Mastering for Shearwater’s Rook LP was last Friday at Sterling Sound with Greg Calbi. Jonathan offered to fly me up, but I felt it best to stick around Texas and catch up on housework and hang out with the wife. Apparently it went well — the band and label are happy — and the masters required very little in the way of rescuing. I’m going to wait until the vinyl is in my hands before listening, though — after months peering at this record through a microscope, I need a break. I’ll try and write another follow-up post on this album by the time it hits the street.

    posted by mb on 01.27.08 @ 18:17

    Shearwater “Rook” mixing update

    Due to scheduling crunches and other constraints, I’ve started mixing Rook on my partner Dave’s Cubase system. Dave and I mix the songs, then send references to the band. They make notes, and I make modifications to the mixes and send more references. This goes back-and-forth until everyone is happy and confident in the final result. In January, Jonathan will come up and we’ll spend 5 days in The Echo Lab, running the mixes through our console and outboard gear and onto 1/2″ analog stereo tape.

    This process is convoluted, but for a record as complex as Rook (so many harp overdubs!) and with so many logistical constraints (people in 3 different cities, a completely packed studio calendar) it makes sense. It gives the band members time to become comfortable with the mixes before signing off on them.

    Typically, I prefer to record and mix records fully analog, tracking to 2″ and mixing to either 1/2″ or 1/4″ stereo tape. (Which format to mix to is usually a question of budget.) Since most records I make take between 3 and 5 days, and are basically documents of a band’s live sound, this is a really efficient way to work.

    Rook is a different beast. Because the band is spread out across 3 cities, they only practice before tours. Of the 14 songs we initially tracked, they had played maybe 5 of them as a band before. Arrangement decisions were being made in the studio, rather than during practice. Lots of overdubs were added to fill out songs. It’s very much a studio creation, rather than a document of a living band. Because of this, mixing is more complex and requires a lot back-and-forth to find the right mix.

    posted by mb on 12.24.07 @ 11:52

    Shearwater “Rook” recording, day whatever


    Been knocking out vocals. Soundelux 251 is ruling for the croony stuff.

    “Century Eyes” now sounds like Suicide meets The Ex meets Yo La Tengo, sorta. Still waiting for the Half Machine Lip Moves moment, but oh yes, it will come.

    “Jolene” by Dolly Parton sounds INCREDIBLE vari-speeded down two and a half steps. Unreal. Definitely releasing this into the wild.

    posted by mb on 12.04.07 @ 23:37

    Shearwater “Rook” recording, day 20-something

    Friday night, Howard and I went out to the studio to go over the existing takes, talk about overdub ideas, and free up tracks to make room for said overdubs. This involved erasing unwanted takes (extra vocals, misguided cowbells) and sub-mixing some drum tracks. (The original drum recording used separate tracks for the toms and cymbal microphones. These 4 tracks were mixed down to 2 new tracks, then the originals were erased, leaving us with 2 more free tracks.)

    On Saturday, Thor and Elaine (the harpist) arrived around 11:30, and we got started on harp overdubs. We tried a few different microphones in various positions before settling on two Avenson Audio omnis taped to the soundboard of the harp and an Audio-Technica Pro37r about 10′ away for ambiance. (Steve Albini used a similar technique on Joanna Newsome’s Ys album, but used four Crown GLM-100 mics up and down the soundboard for increased detail.) These were all run through John Hardy mic preamps and bussed through our Manley ELOP limiter to a single track.

    Elaine ran through 7 songs in a matter of hours. A really wonderful experience for me, this being my first harp recording and all.

    After we finished the harp overdubs, she packed up and we headed for dinner. 5 bowls of curry later, Howard and I returned and started in on his large list of overdub ideas. For the first time in my life, I recorded a flanged tambourine. (I feel liberated, honestly). We did a lot of extra guitar and organ bass pedals before calling it a night at 3:30 AM.

    posted by mb on 12.02.07 @ 12:43

    After a nice rest…

    I’m ready to get back into working on “Rook”. Jonathan, Thor, and the harpist are driving up tonight, and we’ll commence overdubs tomorrow morning.

    During the break, Jonathan and Mark Sonnabaum (our string/woodwinds arranger) have been piling on the arrangements, and our to-do list of overdubs has become, shall we say, ambitious. We are recording through the 9th and reconvening for final mixing in January. Dave Willingham is going to assist me with mixing, which will provide some much-needed perspective and oversight after spending more than 4 weeks in the studio working on these songs.

    posted by mb on 11.30.07 @ 14:15

    Shearwater “Rook” recording, day 19

    Today is our last day in the studio for a little while. We’ve been steadily knocking out remaining overdubs, some planned and others made up on a whim. Jonathan has turned in some great vocal performances so far, but we still have quite a few lead vocal tracks to go. Howard and I are going to pack him up and send him back home to his lovely girlfriend for some well-deserved time off. (He’s spent most of this year on the road with Okkervil River and Bill Callahan.)

    We’ll reconvene on Dec 1st to do strings, woodwinds, brass, and any remaining overdubs. Then we mix and put it to bed. In the interim I’ll be doing a little more work on the new The New Year album. And sleeping.

    posted by mb on 11.18.07 @ 17:04

    Shearwater “Rook” recording, days. . . uhh. . .

    We are now firmly in overdub-ville on the Shearwater record. Kim finished up her parts and flew home on Monday, and Thor stuck around another day to add a few percussion parts before the lure of Austin became too great. Now it’s just Jonathan, Howard and I doing vocals, guitars, piano, and whatever else comes to mind.

    With fewer people in the studio, it’s more tempting (and easier) to experiment with sounds, mic technique, and effects. The Ibanez AD-230 analog delay is playing a big, but subtle role on this record, which is common for me. We got it years ago for cheap from Erik Woffard, and I haven’t made a record in the last five years without it. It distorts beautifully, and creates the most wonderful, wooly slapback and doubling.

    Most overdubs so far have been pretty typical, technique-wise, save for some backwards piano added to “Rooks”. (In true “great minds think alike” fashion, Howard and I came up with the idea for this independent of one another.) The Studer A827 24-track can playback and record in reverse, so this was pretty easy to do, except for the last hit of the song — because the drums had stopped by that point, Howard had no way of knowing exactly when to play. We got around this by recording the part (which was late on recording, and therefore ahead of the beat on playback), then using a delay to put the part in time with the song. I then bounced the delayed piano to another track and erased the original.

    I dunno if any of that is interesting to anyone else, but it just means that’s one fewer thing that won’t be done w/ a computer. So far, we’re stayed completely analog (save for making safety copies of some takes in Cubase), including all edits and effects, and my goal is to keep it that way.

    posted by mb on 11.15.07 @ 22:04

    Shearwater recording update

    I’m recording the band Shearwater for a new LP on Matador. I’ve been running sound for them for the past couple of years, and recorded 5-songs on the Matador re-issue of their Palo Santo LP. We’ve been working hard so far, and there hasn’t been much time to think (or blog), but here’s what’s up so far.

    The band arrived on Sunday night and spent Monday and Tuesday practicing. The weekend before, JC, Howrad, and I cleaned up the band apartment and cleaned out the playing rooms, tweaking the acoustics a bit. On Tuesday, I sat with the band as they played through their songs, making notes on instrumentation and potential arrangement and overdub ideas. We made logical groups of songs based on instrumentation so that we would spend less time setting up and be more efficient while tracking.

    I’m engineering the record and the band is producing, which means my focus is on the technical side: making sure levels are right, things sound good, etc. The band has made enough records to not need a producer — any advice/input I have is to help them facilitate their “vision”. (That made me throw up in my mouth a little.) Maybe half of the album has never really been played as a band — as the record goes on, some of these less-developed songs will get a lot of experimentation and overdubs. For now, though, I’m focusing on good rhythm section performances and sounds.

    Little technical things:

    A lot of time was spent finding a balance between a good piano sound and reducing the bleed of the drums into the piano. I had hoped the Crown GLM200 mics I bought would help, but there was too much bleed and they didn’t sound all that great. We’ve settled on spaced Neumann KM84’s over the hammers and will just overdub anything that’s disastrous-sounding

    For the acoustic bass, I’m using two mics: a Soundelux U195s near the bridge, and an AT Pro37r on the neck. This seems to provide a nice balance of body and articulation.

    Thor was using a goatskin head on his floor tom, but it finally busted after 4 takes of the first song, “The Snow Leopard”. He went to a Fiberskin after that, which he’s using on his kick and rack tom. Sounds great either way.

    I had hoped to be using the new ATR Master Tape for this session, but they’re still not shipping 2″. (I did buy a case of 1/2″.) The RMGI Emtec 900 I’m using instead sounds good, but it leaves a frightening amount of residue on the heads. This makes me furrow my brow!

    I’ll try and make a more thoughtful post this weekend after I’m able to actually sleep in a bit.

    posted by mb on 11.02.07 @ 09:50

  2. #2
    Indifferentist Slosh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    I'm just about to spin Rook for the first time. Small world, eh?

    As for best of '08 my current so-far-favorite is this:
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Originally Posted by Troy: She has that same kind of cleft-pallet, slightly retarded way of singing that so many other people find endearing.

  3. #3
    Stone Stone's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    This has been my favorite:

    Soul Messages From Dimona

    Granted, it probably doesn't "count" because it was all recorded in the late 70s, and it's a compilation of various artists, but it's some fantastic stuff.

    Simply put, Numero's brilliant Dimona anthology is the music of the Black Hebrew movement that is settled and officially recognized in the Dimona desert of Israel. While this description may suggest a CD of field recordings, nothing could be further from the truth. These 16 tracks document the recordings of the Soul Messengers, the Spirit of Israel, the Tonistics and Sons of the Kingdom. The origins of this music evolve with three soul musicians from Chicago who were part of the Windy City's burgeoning R&B and blues scenes: Charles "Hezekiah" Blackwell, Thomas "Yehudah" Whitfield (a member of the Metronomes/the Pharoahs), and John "Shevat" Boyd . The story in the liner notes is more than fascinating; it's riveting, and it's also too long to go into here. Suffice to say that these 16 sides reflect some of the very best hardcore soul, funk, and spiritual jazz-funk to have been made by a group of multinationals. Soul Messages from Dimona was recorded between 1975 and 1978, though much of it had its roots as early as the '60s. The lyrics here are spiritual, positive, and yes sometimes religious, but they are rooted in such killer sounds that even if you are not one to get with the philosophy, the music itself will simply move you beyond that .While the music is drenched in spirituality, none of it is militant, it is rousing, uplifting and full of deep grooves, funky breaks, amazing vocals, and great writing and arranging. Check the Tonistics' (the Black Hebrew version of the Jackson 5) popping soul groover "Dimona (Spiritual Capital of the World)," or the burning, hard edged jazz-funk of the Soul Messengers' "Heaven of Heroes," and the Soul Messengers & the Spirits of Israel (the latter comprised of the founders' wives, all of whom had sung in gospel groups back in Chicago) on "Burn Devil Burn" which opens the set. On this latter tune, with swirling organ, a huge low-tuned bassline, and wah-wah guitar with a full-blown horn section, one can hear Fela but also the influence of the great urban gospel choirs of Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, War, and the spooky grooves of Santana and Mandrill, although these groups unlike any of them. The J.B.'s styled horns of "Our Lord and Savior," also touch on the faster moments in Bob Marley's early reggae and the soaring vocals of LaBelle before kicking into a rewritten version of Steam's "Na Na Na (Kiss Him Goodbye)" with all Hebrew lyrics! Yes, most songs are sung in English. Then there's the funky, dubby reggae-gospel of "Daniel," a rewriting of the classic spiritual. The quality of the music here here is so high (and for the most part beautifully recorded), one cannot envy Numero having to top this collection. These cats continue to surprise us, but this is more of a shock to the system. This is in the label's top two or three releases and thus far, the compilation to beat in 2008.
    And the world will turn to flowing pink vapor stew.

  4. #4
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    on some faraway beach...
    Quote Originally Posted by Slosh
    I'm just about to spin Rook for the first time. Small world, eh?

    As for best of '08 my current so-far-favorite is this: Will Bonnie Prince Billy Palace Oldham
    I was kind of on the fence about picking up anything new from Will, but may have to reconnoiter on that one now. Really that good? Rook is incredible! Songs like "The Snow Leopard" really do change his status in my mind, making him one of the top musical visionaries today, almost like a post rock version of David Bowie. Yea, some of it has been done before by Talk Talk and Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, and even Scott Walker when he isn't so madly cryptic and overblown, but this is pretty special shit, especially in today's play-it-safe pop music climate.

  5. #5
    Man of the People Forums Moderator bobsticks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    down there
    Dammit, I just got back from the discshak...totally forgot about Shearwater...had Bonnie Prince Billy in my hands too and went the other way with it. Got some Buckner and the new Nada Surf though, with some some Presets for a side dish and some other assorted goodies. Clearly this means that Wednesday or Thursday I'll have to leave work early.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stone
    This has been my favorite:Granted, it probably doesn't "count" because it was all recorded in the late 70s, and it's a compilation of various artists, but it's some fantastic stuff.
    I've got a few of those-type compys and alot are good. A few weeks ago I picked up "Memphis 70's" which was fantastic and today I snagged "Hey Everybody...I Gotta New Dance" described as "23 Soul,Funk,Latin Torpedoes Gonna Rock Your Boat". Loved what I heard on the listening post though, fittingly, many/most of y'all would probably hate it.

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