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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Porcupine Tree > Lightbulb Sun 2007 remix - a review

In the year 2000 , when Lightbulb Sun was initially released, it was somehow a change of dogma. Being a rather trippy band, with lots of atmospheric sequences, long melodies, and a rather depressive way of singing, but with complex rhythms and time signatures, and some real great drums, they released an album that went into another direction.
Their sound suddenly went into more compact song structures, almost like a new brit pop band it semed at that time.
Many fans jumped off the train since then, but as the band went forward, they gathered even more fans.

One thing we Munich fans thought about the cd was that it was perfect in sound; a production value never heard before, and we bowed to it.

So why do a remix of a perfectly produced album? I got curious.
It arrived, and contained 2 discs, a CD containing the 2007 remix, and a DVD-A containing 4 songs mixed in 5.1 and the entire album in its original mix.
So I started listening to the remix, and at a first glance there was - nothing....... hmm...... oh, wait... it sounds warmer.
yes, I can hear everything a good tad better. --- That was my first impression.

"The differences are small, but there are some sonic improvements..." Steve Wilson states in the booklet.

So what are the differences?

I think the original mix was done to meet industry standards, making it radio friendly. Removing that was their goal, I guess.
The overall sound is less aggresive, they took much more care to not overload the trebles, not to distort waveforms, and keeping all as transparent as possible.
The entire sound is warmer, in a vinyl style somehow. the loudness of every instrument is matched perfectly, so one doesn't disturb the other, and yes, they made it so good that one doesn't miss one note.
Some slightly different effects have been applied to the guitar for not bleeding all other instruments out, and such things.
Seperating all instuments and make it a new sonic experience, well that's exactly what they did.

In 2000 I thought "wow that sounds like the band is playing right in my living room".
In 2008 I can only top that by saying "nice of the band to stop by in my humble home".

I haven't listened to the DVD-A, as I do know the original version very well, and the 5.1 remixes of those 4 tunes make no sense on a stereo environment.
One thing I can say for sure: I recommend the cd to everyone. It is such a great new sonic experience, you shouldn't miss it!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The elusiveness of inspiration

As a follow up to my last post I was thinking about all the music that has really inspired me in my life. I now think that musical enjoyment comes in 3 forms for me. These 3 categories overlap like Russian nesting dolls. I can be just entertained, entertained and inspired, or entertains, inspired and imitative. Let me run down my categories.

  1. Entertainment - As I've gotten older I think I find more and more examples of music I just like listening to. Doesn't matter what genre (metal, jazz, americana, whatever), I can just enjoy listening to a song because I like it and I think its well done.
  2. Inspiration - I hear something and it makes me feel like working on my own music. Gives me a little kick to keep going. It's motivational entertainment. I often get this from live shows as well as from listening to music at home.
  3. Imitation - I hear something and I want to actually write a song like that. A song that either sounds like that or a song that makes me feel the same way. Sometimes the end result doesn't really resemble my source of imitation at all but somehow, for me, the mood remains the same.
As I mentioned, my age has mellowed me a bit and I can just find enjoyment in a good song. When I was a teenager everything I listened to had to be just a certain style and it had fit the second two categories. Inversely, as I've gotten older I find it harder to find new music that inspires me. Maybe its that I'm exposed to far more music through the internet now and there's more to sort through to find what really speaks to me. Maybe the more of my own music I make the less of others music I get into. I have more than once read interviews with artists who, when asked what new music they listen to, say they don't really listen to anything new or list one or two bands. I often find myself going back to my older music for inspiration and it seems like in most cases what inspired me long ago still does. To use one band as an example, Dream Theater, I find Systematic Chaos fun to listen to but it doesn't get to me, doesn't get under my skin. I can still pop Images and Words in and I feel like a starry-eyed 16 year old again. I have reached the point where I don't expect to always be inspired and thats ok. Sometimes its just good to listen to good music. Getting inspired also means working and I can't work 24/7.

Even though great moments of finding something new are fewer, they are sometimes more satisfying and exciting. They seem to come in brief bursts. After college the first big 'new music' explosion happened in 2001. I was already a little familiar with Symphony X, but attending ProgPower USA 1 exposed me also to Pain of Salvation and Zero Hour for the first time. Here I found new music, stuff that sounded fresh and like it was forging a new path. I was also introduced to Spiral Architect and Vauxdvihl that same year. Back in 2001 pretty much everyone else I heard was trying to be a Dream Theater clone. 2001 was a great year for finding new music for me. Over the subsequent years I never had such a big explosion of discovery like that again but every once in a while something grabs me when I'm not looking and shows me a new perspective. I had those moments with Porcupine Tree - In Absentia, Sieges Even - The Art Of Navigating By The Stars, and most recently Everon - North.

I wonder if people who don't play music feel like this at all. Am I in a unique position as a listener and a composer, you do others find similar circumstances of inspiration and imitation, though maybe not for creating music, but for doing something else? All in all I still love listening to music. Almost as much as I love creating it.

I'll end with a quote by John Coltrane, one of my favorites about being a creator and consumer of music:
"Sometimes I wish I could walk up to my music for the first time, as if I had never heard it before. Being so inescapably a part of it, I’ll never know what the listener gets, what the listener feels, and thats too bad."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Everon - North

The new cd 'North' by Everon has quickly become a daily habit. Its been a while since I've discovered a new (to me) band that made a big impression on me. One thing I really like about this cd is that the music if fairly uplifting and hopeful. It had its dark moments, but as someone who loves Fates Warning and Pain of Salvation, Everon is a nice shift from the melancholy and intensity of bands like that.

What got me the most excited about this band though were the lyrics. I don't often pay that much attention to lyrics... or at least I pay more attention to the music. Put another way, I can listen to a song I think has good music and bad lyrics, but not a song that has bad music and good lyrics. I think Everon's lyrics are some of the most poetic I've read. Here are some samples:

(from the song 'Wasn't It Good')
"Nostalgia is a dangerous poison
If mixed with bitterness and grief
Makes the past look so much brighter
Forms illusions of relief
Makes what's lost still seem an option
Though it failed the test of time
Pretends the years have done no damage
That we're still in our prime"

(from the song 'Running')
Still lies the ocean deep
Such grace never met the eye
A whole world in peaceful sleep
Under a star covered sky

I find in the first example an expression of something a lot of people might feel but not know how to say, and it is said without either being too simple or too mired in metaphor. In the second example I think we have just a beautiful image painted in words. Oliver Philipps has great skill with the English language even though its not his native tongue. Reading these lyrics has given me a little kick to put more effort and thought into my own. I usually only write lyrics when very inspired. Unlike music, which I can sit and write anytime, lyrics come on their own time. But I'll be more aware I think of finding the best way to say what I want to say.

So go get this cd. Its a complete vision and I don't think I'll get tired of listening to it.