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September 2023
Vol. 22, No. 12

Zen of Recording

Really Recommended Recordings

by Sven-Erik SeaholmSeptember 2019

I am hungry. Ravenous. Apparently, insatiably so. Not for food. Nor vice or any other natural or peculiar appetites.

For music. New music or more specifically, new to my ears, whether released today or any time in history. If it’s good or great and I haven’t heard it before, I want to ASAP. Some might view this as a sign of fickleness, but that’s not it at all. Certainly being a musician is central as is being a music fan and lover. But it also informs my work as a songwriter, producer, and recordist.

In light of this motivation, I believe in listening to a lot of different stuff, but that can be very expensive, so I have been a Google Play subscriber for a few years now and it’s a very well-spent $10 a month! Still, it seems like great albums come out at very slow intervals. Just in the last few weeks. However, I found several amazing examples to turn you on to. Here are just three of them:

The Black Keys Let’s Rock (Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch)
This album was teased for months with videos that were alternately hilarious, lame, and familiarly styled like their more recent album, El Camino, which featured a Gary Glitter-like stadium rock mode. Thankfully, when the Let’s Rock came out there was a deeper, cooler, and altogether refreshing new approach to their sound, even though the album was promoted as a return to the guitar/drums-only format of their first few albums, like Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness.

Yes, it’s just the two of them (except for backing vocalists Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson); all the songs were written in the studio as before and there are only keyboards on one song, but there is an amazing artistic leap on display here.
The Black Keys were always a recording project, but both guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney have been doing a lot of producing for other artists and their chops show in the beautifully layered simplicity of the arrangements and a gorgeously more melodic singing approach from Auerbach. If all that weren’t enough, “Sit Around And Miss You” is the best Gerry Rafferty song he never wrote. An album that is both rocking and relaxing. My new fave BKs album.

Bon Iver iMi (Jagjaguwar)
The first thing I thought upon first the opening moments of the intro “Yi” and second cut “iMi” was What the hell am I listening to? Bursts of static, mic bumping, and roomy choir shouts open into a modern R&B vocal snippet that has been mangled, randomly chopped, and placed into a disorienting soundscape that suddenly lands upon a lovely sparsely accompanied solo vocal from band leader and producer Justin Vernon, before it just as quickly spreads out into a multi-harmonized chorale infused with hip-hop beats, which snowballs into a chaotic horn breakdown before returning to the laptop chamber pop of the song’s beginning. If that seems like a lot, it is. This album is a challenging, provocative, and ultimately charming listening experience that rewards careful attention and repeated listens with a refreshing newness with every play. Vernon’s singing has never been better (and it’s always been great), often bringing to mind Peter Gabriel’s tonal texture. The collaborators within the band, as well as special guests like Bruce Hornsby seem to keep pushing the boundaries of the vast sonic vista ever outward, like they’re looking for every musical possibility that exists. A masterpiece.

The Raconteurs Help Us Stranger
I was never really a Jack White fan. I mean, I can appreciate the White Stripes and really liked their album Get Behind Me, Satan, but there’s always been a sort of overly self-aware rendering in his performances, as well as his production work for other artists. That was until I heard the Raconteurs. There’s something about the chemistry of White and co-lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Brendan Benson that just works. They seem to temper and inspire one another to reach a passionate fervor that bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler whip into a frenzy of even greater heights. It sounds like a band of record store crate diggers that are trying to embody everything that’s great about rock, blues, pop, and country music and you know what? They kinda do.

They absolutely rip right out of the gate with the power-pop rocker “Bored and Razed,” before dropping into “Help Me Stranger,” with its late-night vinyl intro and percussion fueled grooviness. Later, “Sunday Driver” veers toward more comfortable territory for White (in a great way), but this album is so versatile that they can actually end up with the strikingly beautifully recorded acoustic arrangement of “Thoughts and Prayers,” which powers into a climactic Baba O’Reily-influenced fiddle jam and it totally seems like an intuitive journey all the way to the end.

All of these releases are just incredible and I highly suggest you check them out, so that you can be as inspired as I am by them. Buy them!

Sven-Erik Seaholm loves and enjoys music as much as you do. Yay!

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