Jack Sharkey. January 9, 2015.
Let's start this episode of Front-to-Back Album Friday with a short discussion about the click track (stick with me this is will be brilliant). But before we can talk about the click track we have to talk about your amygdala and hippocampus – yes that amygdala and hippocampus. Studies have shown that when a person listens to music, their heart and breath rates synch up with the music being listened to. You truly become one with your music.
Human beings all perceive time differently, that is to say, musical time. Live, song speeds can vary quite a bit because of the energy inherent in a live performance, but even in a recording studio, time varies because human beings are not machines. Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones starts at 132 Beats per Minute (BPM) and ends at 140 BPM - a 6% increase in speed. As listeners, we don't notice those variations in terms of numerical calculations, we instead notice them as emotions – excitement, joy, anger, etc.
But, with the advent of multi-track recording came a small problem: the tempo (or time) of a song varies sometimes slightly, sometimes wildly, over the course of the song. Choruses tend to speed up and breakdowns tend to slow down, so when another musician would come in to play along with a previously recorded track with tempo variations, madness would ensue. And I mean anger- and rage-type madness, because it can sometimes be impossible to play over a track with tempo variations if the exact energy of the original performance can't be replicated.
So engineers began to record single tracks with just a click or beat for the musicians playing on the track to use as a reference. Admittedly, there are a lot of drummers (and other players) out there who can't keep a beat even with a click track, but that's another story for another day. It's a common practice today for record producers to actually speed the click track up during choruses or other parts of a song to induce emotional excitement in a listener. Basically, you are listening to mechanically induced excitement rather than emotionally induced excitement – that's why so much modern music sounds so aloof and plodding.
That's also why when you hear really good musicians playing free from mechanical time keeping devices you get so emotionally involved in the music. That's also why 9 Dead Alive is this week's Front-to-Back Album (and why you should buy a copy for yourself), but I'm getting ahead of myself.
- • Released April 29, 2014 on ATO Records
- • Produced by Rodrigo y Gabriela
- • Engineered by Fermin Vasquez Llera
- • Recorded at Lumbini Studios, Ixtapa, Mexico
- • Mixed by Andrew Sceps at Punkerpad West Studios, Van Nuys, CA
- • Mastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, LA, CA
- • Length: 40:57
- •Peaked at Number 22 Billboard Top 200 (2014), Billboard World Albums: #1 (2014, January 2015), Top Digital Albums (#12), Top Independent Albums (#5), Top Rock Albums (#7)
- • Rodrigo Sanchez - Guitars (typically in your right channel)
- • Gabriela Quintero - Guitars (typically in your left channel)
2014 was a banner year for me musically – I bought more complete albums in 2014 than I did in probably the previous five years combined. There was just a lot of really good music released last year. If I was inclined to rate the albums I was exposed to last year (I'm not), 9 Dead Alive would certainly be in the top three.
In terms of frequency range, this is basically a recording of two guitars, so don't expect to work your system out too much from bottom to top, but, in terms of dynamic range, there's a lot of it to be had here. Listen to this closely and on a decent system and you'll be amazed at how many different noises and sounds come out of a guitar body. Especially when performed by musicians who can play like Rodrigo and Gabriela.
I bought this on vinyl, so we'll list the tracks per side.
The Soundmaker (4:52): The title of the album refers to the nine largest influences in the dou's lives and the set opener is dedicated to Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado. This one is adorned with a somewhat simple and repetitive melody which sounds like I mean that in a bad way, but I don't. The Soundmaker will burrow its way into your head and stick there just like all good songs are supposed to do. It's also in the early parts of this track that you'll hear those tempo variations I spoke about earlier. Remember, when done right, tempo variations are a good thing, and this song is an example of all that is good in live music.
Torito (5:03): I don't know about the CD, and I am sure the digital download doesn't contain the sparse-yet-cool liner notes that come with the vinyl LP. As you listen to the tracks you can actually read something on a piece of paper without getting a splitting eye-headache. This is why I know this song is dedicated to animals and nature, and as you listen to the track you get the connection between the two the artists were trying to convey. This song does a great job of transporting the listener to the hot and dry climate of Mexico (or interior Spain for that matter), but it does so in a positive and spiritual manner that's just fun to be a part of.
Sunday Neurosis (5:16): This is another example of two musicians breathing together as they play. The time wanders a bit (if you pay close attention), but it's in the wandering that the essence of the song comes out. They are completely in synch with each other and that's all that matters when you are listening to music. Your job as a listener is to keep up. This is a beautifully evocative song with a hint of organ (uncredited) lilting gently under spoken word excerpts that allow Sanchez to segue beautifully into his best solo lines on the record. This single song is an entire musical experience. Then of course there's the jet.
Misty Moses (4:38): Listen closely to the left channel to hear Quintero's masterful flamenco-style percussion work and the delightful thud of Quintero's guitar as she keeps the beat will give your subwoofer a nice little workout. Hats off to the recording engineer for capturing the in-tight sounds of both guitars without losing the sense of space by removing all of the air from the recording. The arrangement is in perfect harmony with the production on this one – turn it up!
Excuse me while I get up and flip the record.
Somnium (3:43): This is by far my personal favorite track on this album because it does such a good job of conveying a specific time and place. I'll let you decide what time and place that is, but for me, this song could have been twice as long and I wouldn't have complained. Listen closely around the 2:00 mark and you'll once again hear a pair of musicians who are breathing and whose hearts are beating in perfect synch. The tempo lifts, but it lifts in a magnificently human way.
Fram (4:30): This song conveys the manic times of a man who lived to save potentially millions of lives during and just after World War I. The beauty of instrumental music – when it's done right – is that the music becomes the lyric. That's another reason why having the liner notes is pretty much essential to your enjoyment of this record. The brief notes about each track help set you up for the journey you are being taken on. You can't get that with a digital download.
Megalopolis (5:00): Coming down from the frantic pace of the previous track, this song plays like a cool breeze blowing across the pampas on an otherwise hot summer evening. Unusual for an album of this nature, it's about this time that you realize you're thirty minutes into the set and you're a little disappointed it's almost over.
The Russian Messenger (4:53): Beginning at the 1:17 mark, this song takes an interesting turn away from itself – and the rest of the album. The rhythmic interplay and spaciousness is really a lot of fun to listen to and Sanchez shows off some of his solo chops after the breakdown. You can feel him step out and stretch a bit before returning right back into the rhythm. The song seems to end at the 3:47 mark but the rhythm comes back in stronger and more confident than before. Listen closely in here because there is a lot going on.
Les Salle Des Pas Perdus (3:02): A little bit of conversation opens this closer that evokes a medieval theme (read the liner notes). Sanchez plays a lot more notes on this track than on any of the others, yet the song still sounds sparse and open – a tribute to a musician who knows when to play and when not to play.
9 Dead Alive is best listened to:
- • Outside at night (if it's summer or you're lucky enough to live somewhere where you can do those things even when its not summer)
- • Inside at night with as little unnatural lighting as possible (e.g. lots of candles) if it happens to be 8 degrees out where you are (like where I am)
- • I don't want to be lame, but seriously a nice Spanish Roja or a well-crafted sangria (not that store-bought stuff) is pretty much exactly what you need
- • I hate to say this, but if you're looking for background music for a nice little dinner or something this is a good record for that. That being said, this record deserves to be so much more than background music, so just sit back and listen
The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect the opinions of KEF or its amployees.