Viewing entries tagged
Stereolab

Map Ref 01: False Start

Hey Friends:

As mentioned in my last blog post, I'm going to be spending some time in the next few weeks working through a song-by-song breakdown of Geography, referencing favorite songs that influenced the making of the record. Personally, I love when artists talk process—discussing the origins of a lyric, or what he or she may have been listening to at the time of a track's conception—so I thought it might be fun to write about about how my record came to be. And since Geography's aesthetic theme is rooted in maps, I'm naming this post series accordingly with a not-so-subtle nod to my favorite Wire song. Here we go!

"False Start," the opening track to Geography, is one of the oldest songs from the record, demoed back in 2011 when I was working on our Resolution EP; in fact, I believe that the first two songs I wrote were the opening and closing tracks ("State of the Union" dates back to 2008), and I knew early on that "False Start" and "State" would start and end the record's sequence.

That heartbeat bass pulse, which underpins the entire track, is a straight-up pull from Spoon's "Small Stakes." I've long thought that this is one of the best album openers of all time—gripping and emotive despite the spareness of its design. Spoon's bluesy moments don't really resonate with me as a songwriter, however their commitment to making strange production choices have provided a lot of inspiration to me over the last ten years.

Earlier demos maintained that "Small Stakes" minimalism throughout, featuring only vocals, bass pulse, and some synthesizer run through a timed delay, however once I knew what the theme of the record was going to be about, I realized that some additional melody might be needed. That's where the piano came in. As a side note: all but two songs from Geography contain piano—an instrument which was featured only sparingly in earlier City States songs—and my use of it throughout the LP really did help bring out the emotion I wanted to convey.

But back to "False Start:" that persistent 8th note piano phrasing, running in parallel with the bass pulse, is borrowed from LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends," which, in my opinion, may be the finest song written in the last 15 years. This isn't the first time I've tried to mimic James Murphy's crowning achievement: on Resolution I attempted, unsuccessfully, to make a similar move with the EP's closer, "Reverse Slow Motion." Could one suggest that the former song naturally flows into the latter? Perhaps. I do think that "False Start" is more successful.

About two weeks before going in for mixing at Soma, I knew that the song still needed something more—movement? progression?—and that's when I added the extra drum machines, synth arpeggios, and live drums that slowly fade in throughout the song's second half. During the last 6 months of writing and recording I listened to Stereolab and Tortoise (two bands I've written about before) maybe more than any other groups, and when "Olv 26" popped up in an iTunes playlist one day, I heard a stylistic parallel that made a lot of sense to me. Strangely, those electro-snare inclusions remind me a bit of Hot Chip, but once the live drums and arpeggios fade in, I hear an awful lot of Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Those final edits, for me, make the song, and I'm glad I decided to make some last-minute additions.

Next time, I'll talk Dismemberment Plan, Walkmen, and the death of the universe with "Endless Sunlight." Thanks for reading!

Joel

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Mixing Day 3 of 4

We’re getting close! Today I am headed back to Soma in Wicker Park to mix with John McEntire, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve never run a marathon before, but friends have told me that by mile 21 or 22, you’re exhausted and just want the race to be finished. I can relate—after two years of living with these songs, I’m really just ready to be done so I can move on to other things. We’re getting close, though; by tomorrow night all 10 songs will be mixed.

I will say that I’m very happy with how the songs are shaping up. Since the timeline at Soma is so tight, I’ve done a lot of work creating rough mixes at home, which in turn has pushed me to make sure that each arrangement is at its best. And after spending a day with the album closer, “State of the Union,” I’ve finally come to understand the degree to which I’ve embraced the piano on this record—I think that all but one song utilizes the instrument, and the closing track is really just a straight up piano ballad. The Tortoise / Stereolab influence is pretty clear, too, at least to me—lots of droning organs, live drums run through strange filters, and not a single strummed guitar chord (though I use plenty of eBow, and a little bit of acoustic finger-picking).

More soon,

Joel / City States

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Influence VI: Stereolab – Dots & Loops

Throughout the last two years of writing and recording, I’ve consistently gone back to a handful of records as references, and to that end I’ve probably listened to Dots And Loops more than any other. This may come as a surprise to some, given that D&L has a reputation for being Stereolab’s jazz influenced album, and a decidedly breezy one at that. To be fair, I think that the “jazz” label is only true by half; instead, what I hear when I listen to Dots And Loops is a wonderfully strange pop record, one which bridges the gap between electronic and acoustic sounds better than anything in Stereolab’s catalog.

A lot of qualities that I love about Stereolab’s music are things that I’ve written about before with respect to Steve Reich; specifically, I love how they contrast structural minimalism with compositional maximalism—ie: repetitive songs that become more and more dense over time. And the way that The Groop handles production, editing, and mixing on Dots And Loops is particularly fantastic. Here, live instruments sound strangely electronic and otherwise processed, while synthesizers take on more muted tones. It’s a thrilling, fascinating conceit that has given me a strong sense of how to approach the production of my own songs.

Part of the reason I am so excited about working at Soma Studios (we will be mixing one half of our LP there this weekend) is that some of the work on this record was completed there—my hope is that we can tease similar peculiarities out of our own music as was done on Dots And Loops.

Fingers = crossed.

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News: Mixing in 1 Week   

 It’s crunch time! We are just over a week away from our first mixing session at Soma Studios with John McEntire (of Tortoise / Sea & Cake), and I’m super excited.  

 The plan, as it stands: we’re going in to mix for 2 days this month, followed by another 2 days next month. That means we should be releasing our first single from the new LP by mid-November. Huzzah! 

 Next week I’ll be writing about Soma’s influence on our music via two posts on Stereolab and Tortoise. Stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading! 

 Joel

News: Mixing in 1 Week

It’s crunch time! We are just over a week away from our first mixing session at Soma Studios with John McEntire (of Tortoise / Sea & Cake), and I’m super excited.

The plan, as it stands: we’re going in to mix for 2 days this month, followed by another 2 days next month. That means we should be releasing our first single from the new LP by mid-November. Huzzah!

Next week I’ll be writing about Soma’s influence on our music via two posts on Stereolab and Tortoise. Stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading!

Joel

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The Collector: Part V

Another moving day discovery: when I was in high school, I used to collect the stickers that were adhered to cellophane CD packaging. I love the fact that two of my all-time favorite albums are represented here—Dots And Loops by Stereolab and Camofleur by Gastr Del Sol.

Also awesome: the lighting on this photograph obscures Boyd Rice’s name on the NON sticker, which reads, “‘Boyd, you are Satan!’ –Bob Larson.” God, are you watching?

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