Reference Tracks (Week of 10/18/20)
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Here's this week's list of mixes I love and the reasons why...
1. boylife – "peas"
Mixed by David Nakaji
I first heard this record over the summer when someone sent it to me as a reference track for their project. It's quickly become my low-end reference whenever I'm listening on an unfamiliar playback system. If there's any wonky room resonance, or if the system can't faithfully reproduce ultra low-end, this track lets me know about it.
2. Latin Playboys – "Forever Night Shade Mary"
Mixed by Tchad Blake
I recently upgraded to a new pair of mixing headphones. When I was in the process of demoing various models, this track was a go-to for getting my bearings straight. First off, there are just a handful of elements (bass, guitar, snare drum, organ, and vocal), so the instrument separation is phenomenal. On top of that, the soundstage is wild; the bass is panned hard left and the guitar is hard right, while the vocal and its slap echo are straight down the middle...a nice reminder to make bold choices when the mix calls for it.
3. Samia – "Big Wheel"
Mixed by Lars Stalfors
This is such a tasteful mix for a variety of reasons, but I'm particularly drawn to the vocal treatment. The way Lars Stalfors subtly shifts the perspective throughout the record is impeccable. The track starts with an almost bone-dry vocal and acoustic guitar. As soon as the drums and other band elements enter, he adds the perfect amount of slap/room reverb to the vocal. Meanwhile, the compression seems to change and glues everything together. This is a great example of massaging a vocal throughout a track to keep the listener engaged. There's loads more I could say about this one but you should just go listen...
4. Turner – "Thank Him"
Mixed by Stadic
I heard this on the radio over the summer and although I don't know anything about the artist, I think this track is incredible. There's so much excitement built into the arrangement and the mix really does it justice. The tension between the syncopated percussive elements and the four-on-the-floor kick gives the track its forward propulsion, and the mix is so attentive to that relationship. The balance between elements is spot on, and while there's extreme element separation, there's still a strong sense of cohesion.
5. MICHELLE – "UNBOUND"
Mixed by David Pizzimenti
This one's a good example of really well apportioned low-mids. 200-500Hz is one of the most critical frequency ranges to get right in a mix, and I think David Pizzimenti nailed it on this one. This track has a lot of information in that area–the upper harmonics of the kick drum and bass, the pad synth, the body of the lead vocal–but nothing comes across as muddy or obscured, even though the mix is on the darker side.
6. Amadou & Mariam – "M' Bife"
Mixed by Laurent Jaïs
I'm obsessed with the way this track builds. Unlike the Simia track where the vocal treatment changes to accommodate the evolving arrangement, this one sees Mariam Doumbia's vocal nearly being overtaken by the instrumental as the track blooms. It's cool. Also, the talking drum that plays throughout (I think that's a talking drum) sounds incredible, as does the organ, as does the guitar, as do the backing vocals, as does everything because this song is a masterpiece. Go listen.
7. Porches – "Rangerover"
Mixed by James Krausse
This track sort of reminds me of a hip-hop mix. The drums are robust, the low-end is big, and the vocals are clear, sharp, and sit well on top of the instrumental without sounding superimposed. This is a go-to for checking my tonal balances. Just a solid, tasteful mix that seems to translate well on every system I throw it at.
8. Amen Dunes – "Miki Dora"
Mixed by Max Prior & Craig Silvey
I like this mix because everything sounds like it belongs together. It doesn't exactly sound like a band playing in a room, but it's close, and everything certainly exists in the same sonic universe. Also, the vocal sounds great. I use this one as a reference on new systems for midrange detail and articulation.
9. IC3PEAK – "Sad Bitch"
Mixed by IC3PEAK
This record is wild. A crash course in saturated 808's and distorted reverb. Also a cool example of sidechaining the lead vocal to its reverb...I don't do it a ton, but it's hard to beat when it's what the track needs. More than anything, this record is just a reminder to be bold and intentional with every choice.
10. Tom Waits – "The Earth Died Screaming"
Mixed by Tchad Blake
I love the way this record sounds. It's another Tchad Blake mix and as far as I can tell, it employs the 'SansAmp on everything' approach he's known for. Okay, I don't know if it's everything, but there's such a unique textural palate on the vocal and percussion (pretty much the only elements). I also love the way the ambience sounds on the vocal, especially when it opens up in the chorus.