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“Dolby’s Top 10 Production Jobs of All Time”

So here we are. “In a big country.” We know something’s wrong, because all the buildings are closed down and boarded up, and all we see on TV are flashiness and pretty people laughing.
Is music really going to solve anything, at this point? It’s certainly a valid question. I mean, it’s just sound waves coming out of speakers. We turn it off, and the world is still the same: people fear change, people fear minorities, other countries, and will cotton on to the corporate American “machine” if it means retaining their status quo, if it means the path of less resistance. They choose a leader with a spiny, callous disposition, as a way of reconciling their own.
So why is it that a dude wearing a Social Distortion t shirt in the laundromat still seems as invincible as 100 dogs marching up a sunlit stairway to heaven? And why did Aretha Franklin just sing the longest national anthem ever recorded?
More than ever, now, we need elements of the HUMAN, in our everyday lives. Only humans are undeniable. Only feeling and guts, not desultorily presented ideas, will truly be remembered, and rendered.
I still remember a discussion I had with my friend in college. I was like, “I wanna be a music producer. I wonder what it takes to do that.” And he acted like I was stupid, he was like “YOU HAVE TO OWN ALL THE SH** FOR PRODUCING AN ALBUM.” Ok. Touchee.
And he’s right: actually this explains the litany of overrated record technicians in rock’s burgeoning days (not going to name names, feeling strangely Kris Kringle-ish here on the first of December).
But a lot of the early guys just treated the gig like blending sounds, or maybe they thought they were artistically superior because of their financial superiority. Either way, you can tell when an album just has good songs, or if it has good PRODUCTION too. Ironically, it’s sort of rare for an album to have both — it’s like two people showing affection for each other at the same time. Usually it’s just one or the other. The functional differences of the sequential Jimi Hendrix Experience projects make for a great example. Fine production is the person behind the controls truly knowing the musicians, but also providing a vision of ferocity of his or her own. This way, they avoid undermining the artist, but the studio album itself still has some appeal, like it’s not just some little kid recording the band on a Fisher-Price talking box. Music is always a communication between parties — it’s always a FEELING, which without outside forces acting on it is impossible. Elvis had his dancing. Taylor Swift has her attitude. Elsewhere, the most crushing, memorable sounds we hear are often the work of careful dedication at the control panel, and rarely even come on the producer’s first effort, let alone the band’s. It’s a reconciliation for all that, up to this point in time, had been so glaringly imperfect.
Another reason I’m choosing to focus on production here, though, is that albums are created in simultaneous chunks, within certain studios and by certain soundmen, so thinking in terms of the overall sound project makes people more likely to value entire LP sessions, and consider them as wholes, not just for their given singles. Or so I’m hoping.
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10 Wire – Chairs Missing
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Somehow this is definitely one of those bands that got overlooked in the initial punk movement of the late ‘70s. Probably the primary stylistic influence on the first U2 album (which makes them sound lame, I know), Wire blent catchy, unforgettable songs with fearsome sonic ferocity — like a little kid dropping something on a table, or dropping the whole entire table, for that matter. “Heartbeat” and “From the Nursery” are a couple favorites.
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9 Lower Dens – Nootropics
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This band was first highlighted in 2012 for a live appearance, specifically the one which came at the Pitchfork Music Festival that year — but I was sucked in right away by the brilliant production work of Drew Brown, protege to Nigel Godrich who did Radiohead’s Ok Computer. The first thing that struck me about Nootropics was that it’s primarily an electronica album, so it seems ironic for “production” to really steal the thunder, but at the end of the day the things you remember from treks like “Alphabet Song” and “Lion in Winter pt. 2” are the melodies, guided all the way by that beautiful, grainy bass synth.
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8 Battles – Mirrored
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The cover snap says it all: this is like the American Gladiator of studio musicianship. To think that it’s only one drummer, John Stanier, creating ALL THIS percussion presence, is over the top. The pot is only sweetened by the fact that Mirrored came out in ’07, firmly wedged within the I.D.M. era of Hot Chip, Hercules and Love Affair, The Field and Fennesz. It’s entrancing, enriching urban music, full of an abundant amount of layered rhythm, that like Jess Harvell of Pitchfork suggests in her review, makes a more pronounced practice of MIMICKING computers, than using them.
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7 Grateful Dead – Europe ’72
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Granted, my feelings are sort of bittersweet about Europe ’72, and indeed, it IS hard to find the PERFECT Grateful Dead album (although the recently released, 10-hour Complete Live Rarities boxed set makes a decent case). One abnormal, enervating thing about this album is that it’s a live LP with no crowd noise on it, and a totally clean sound. Wikipedia calls it a “live album… subject to studio overdubs.” The band’s popularity is described as “established” at this time, but perhaps not to the level of most successful touring band of all time. They clearly lacked the confidence to authentically showcase one of their concerts — either that or their label lacked this confidence. But if you’re in the right mood, there are some amazing background vocals shaping these melodious American classics.
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6 Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: S012
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I really have no complaints about this album: it’s a long time coming for an emcee who’s been in the game upwards of two decades, and has long been respected as a hip-hop dude with an egoless eye for things. His rhyming acrobatics take the main stage (“I’m’a come up with somethin’ / Masturbators on escalators”), plus the fact that he sounds like he’s about to have a heart attack, in a good way, but the beats move along with hip, street 2016 pace, not stealing the show but not boring you either.
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5 Wolf Parade – Apologies to Queen Mary
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From the moment I heard those opening drums (pulling out of Best Buy having just bought the CD), and that staunchly minimalist melodic pattern on “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son,” I knew that this album would change people’s lives, and that there was enough indie rock muscle in these young men, with the help of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock on production, to really change the shape of music for some time. For all of the purported “hype machine” that supposedly surrounded this album’s release, to me, it’s anatomy still outshone it.
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4 Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
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Brendan O’Brien is one of those explosive catalysts in music, sort of like the guy in Hootie singing backup on “I’m Goin’ Home,” or The Dismemberment Plan’s bassist Eric Axelrod, who for all the press you could give him, would probably still not be fully appreciated. O’Brien is the quintessential example of a producer blessing the project with measurable, artistic input (he’s quoted as saying “We went interlude crazy on that album” in Pearl Jam Twenty), but for all his off-beat habits, he still finds it in him to bulwark the snare drums as sonic buoys which are embedded, robust, and most importantly, non-‘80s-sounding.
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3 Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love
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Oh, but where are the songs at, haha. Sure, “Hey Joe” was a cover, but “Little Wing” is definitely no “The Wind Cries Mary.” I was just listening to “Wait Until Tomorrow,” a song probably only I have ever voluntarily listened to, but I just couldn’t get over how PHAT that bass was! I think it only came in on the one and four, but its execution alone was enough to remind me that Noel Redding probably had a leg up on Mitch Mitchell in the department of artistic credibility. This is an album I can play front to back as garage rock though — as a band grooving, but also, as a producer working his magic, nay, his MOJO.
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2 Nirvana – Bleach
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Listening to this album, you’re likely to feel your knees jerk into one big, fluid, unexplainable convulsion of white-male-‘dom. Nirvana probably hates it, but it really is the perfect music for sports video games — I can remember listening to this whole LP playing like NCAA Football ’03 with my bud in college, or something, and I also remember them using “Breed” (from Nevermind, mind), for a baseball video game. Hell, the sh**’s fun.
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1 Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
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10 years ago Nov. 29! And what about that cover! Hey guys, what are you baking, what are you selling? Suffice it to say they’re not raising money for a marching band trip downstate. For a while I didn’t know that was Pharrell coming in on “Mr. Me Too,” sounding hilariously laid-back, goofy and original, the only way he seems to know HOW to sound, for that matter. The rugged, violent songs get overwhelming, skin-cutting beats, and the postured commentaries on ghetto life and emcee trademarks get more melody and texture. Any way you look at it: these guys freakin’ nailed it.

 

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