If you've ever been in a dance club after midnight — not a place with Top 40 or retro singles, but a downtown club that mixes together songs you've never heard on the radio with a constant, never breaking beat — then you will instantly grasp the meaning and feel behind Profound Sounds Vol. 1 by Josh Wink on Ovum/Ruffhouse Records.
Wink is a disk jockey who essentially has recorded a club mix of various artists' house and techno songs to compact disc for your home dancing/trancing pleasure. It's a very techno, repetitious collection, which reminds me of the last time I was at Metro's Smart Bar downtown.
Wink segues together songs from Johannes Heil and Heiko Laux, Sylk 130, Blaze, Percy X and more with a throbbing percussion stew ...
Wink isn't the only one offering home listeners the chance to paint their walls black, string up some purple, glowing black lights and create an alternative disco at home. The new American Primal Music label has collected two discs of original drum and bass music from Sweden under the monicker Monolithic Minds 1 & 2. Most of this stuff is basically ambient techno rhythm tracks looking for the rest of the band (not to mention a vocalist) — sort of an alternative edition of elevator music. But if you like background dance beat music that's more relaxing than foot-stomping, these discs will give you plenty of drum and bass — and usually a touch of synthesizer — for your money. Included are groups like Mighty Kohn, Secret Operations, Eclectic Bob, Pro-Seed, Baxter, Yoga, Amen and more. I found it good music to clean an office to. These CDs are available in the U.S. through limited distribution, if you have problems finding them, check the Web site at www.primal.se.
The Primal Music label has also released a full album by Amen, which differs somewhat from the sample track included on Monolithic Minds 1. Amen's Sunglow features the same kind of club backbeats of the above mentioned collections, but strays a bit closer to mainstream with the addition of a revolving troupe of guest instrumentalists, and the inclusion of (admittedly often repetitive) androgynous vocals. It's not exactly pop, but the varied sounds and tempos make it a lot easier to leave on the stereo for an hour without feeling like there's a rhythmic Chinese water torture happening.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recordings:
Tears For Fears
Songs From The Big Chair
East Side Story
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
Guns N' Roses
G N' R Lies
I've written many times in the past about the work of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs — a group that licenses the rights to classic albums, takes the original master recording tapes back into their own studios and remasters them to sound better, usually, than the original releases did.
The label also presses them on superior materials (heavier vinyl in the case of LPs, actual gold alloy in the case of CDs). Generally, the older an album is, the more magic MFSL can do with the sound (albums from the '60s and '70s were not recorded with digital technology, and MFSL can really polish up some things that the average album makers of the time didn't even try to address.
As you get into the releases of the '80s and '90s, with an increasingly use of digital studio sound recording, the differences MFSL can make to a disc get less — but even with the best sounding records that are only a few years old, the label tends to make some kind of sonic brightening difference.
Toto's IV, Squeeze's East Side Story and Tears For Fears' Songs from the Big Chair were all pretty clean sounding discs to start with, and each of them helped shape the '80s music scene in their own way.
Toto and Tears for Fears especially were masters at recording pristine studio albums with plenty of percussive and keyboard effects; however, when you play the MFSL Toto back-to-back with the original label's CD, the improvement of the master recording is immediately evident. The opening drum kicks to "Rosanna" and "Africa" are deeper, while the keyboard parts are brighter. The change is subtle, but I noticed an organ part hiding under the second verse of "Rosanna" that I never noticed before — despite having heard the tune a thousand times.
Likewise with Songs From The Big Chair. In listening to the original disc, I can't hear any flaws. Yet, when you play the MFSL disc back-to-back with it, there's a difference. It's hard to finger at first — the cicadian rhythm of the cymbals in "Shout" are maybe a bit happier, the bass a hair more powerful, the all-important piano intro to "Head Over Heels" a tad tighter. Overall, the album just seems bigger thanks to MFSL — and it was a pretty big album to start with, dropping hits with "Shout," "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" and "Head Over Heels."
Squeeze's East Side Story introduced British songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook to these shores with the early MTV staple "Tempted," a retro-organ backed hit featuring Paul Carrack, who would later go on to fame with Mike + the Mechanics and solo work. While the sound of much of East Side Story is spare and tight by design (betraying the influence of producer Elvis Costello — and Dave Edmunds on one track) MFSL has managed to make everything here sound more crisp and present. Squeeze has never sounded tauter. While the disc didn't yield another hit like "Tempted," it did offer "Is That Love" and a dozen other fine examples of Difford and Tilbrook's Beatlesque songwriting flair.
MFSL has also turned its focusing eye on some other albums of late, as well, helping out John Hiatt's seminal 1988 Slow Turning album and digging back to rescue Jimmy Buffett's A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, a 1973 album that yielded one of his concert standards — "Why Don't We Get Drunk." MFSL has also tweaked Guns 'n Roses' G N'R Lies, an 8-song compilation of an old live EP from 1986, and acoustic studio tracks from 1988. This disc always sounded like a hodge podge — a bar rock concert on once side of the original LP and the reverbed strums of their hit "Patience" on the other. The live stuff was always muddy, and still is here; as Guns N' Roses recede into rock footnote land, the only real reason to own this disc is "Patience" and the "Dr. Demento" humor of "I Used To Love Her" (but I had to kill her).
If you're looking to replace your old LPs of any of these albums with CDs, definitely go for the gold and get the best recordings.
Are they worth replacing your current CD copies of the albums for? In these cases, probably not, unless you're a rabid fan and know every drumbeat and background vocal timbre of the songs. All of these discs are improved sonically from the originals, but a casual listener wouldn't notice or care about the difference.