Reference Tracks (Week of 11/01/20)
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Here's this week's list of mixes I love and the reasons why...
1. Ibibio Sound Machine - "Uwa the Peacock"
Mixed by John Foyle
This is a great song and a great mix. For me, there are three main things that stand out. First, I love the slap echo on the vocal because of the way it enhances the rhythmic character of the track. If you listen closely to the drums and percussion, you'll hear a lot of gated effects; the reverb on the toms and the sustain on the agogo bell each get cut off, leaving syncopated pockets of silence and making room for the four-on-the-floor kick. The vocal slap really fits with this production approach, serving both to seat the vocal in the mix, and to bind it to the rhythmic elements. Another thing I love is the guitar tone...the echo, saturation, and compression are all perfect and the part really helps to add more dimension and character to the record. Finally, the sound of the horns is spectacular. Of course there's no one-size-fits-all way to treat horns, but for that crunchy, midrange-forward thing, these are hard to beat.
2. Lucinda Williams - "Something About What Happens When We Talk"
Mixed by David Bianco
I'm a big fan of the overall mix of this track, but I'm particularly interested in the way the two electric guitars are done. To me, they're quite conversational (look at the song title). While each one has its unique tonal character, they still fit perfectly in the track and complement each other wonderfully. Also, the panning is perfect. From a utilitarian perspective, one could argue that they're just panned out to make room for the vocal. While that's probably true, there's also a compelling back and forth that takes place as they call and respond across the stereo field. Really cool.
3. Yves Tumor - "Gospel For A New Century"
Mixed by Collin Dupuis
To me, this one's all about the drum sound. It's tight and punchy with just the right amount of saturation. The drums are mixed a little quiet, but it would be weird if they were louder...as they are, they hold down the groove and offer a nice sonic counterpoint to the blown out sample and other distorted elements.
4. Brightblack Morning Light - "All We Have Broken Shines"
Mixed by Thom Monahan
I think the tonal makeup of this track is really cool, but I'm particularly fond of the way the vocal sits with everything else. There are a bunch of crisp, Hi-Fi sounding percussive elements panned hard left and right, helping to fill out the top end. Meanwhile the vocal is mixed back and in the center, with a medium mono reverb providing great front to rear perspective. In fact, the width and depth of this track make the whole thing seem quite visual, almost as if I could point to each element in front of me.
5. The Black Keys - "Everlasting Light"
Mixed by Tchad Blake
I'm pretty sure this is the fourth Tchad Blake mix I've written about. To me, it's a lesson in saturation. Everything sounds super gritty, distorted, and textured, but nothing is muddy, obscured, or harsh. All the elements are extremely well separated and the mix is punchy and modern sounding. When there's too much of one thing, it's easy for things to start sounding boring or flat. But here, even though everything is distorted and slammed, the mix is engaging and exciting...not easy to pull off.
6. Kendrick Lamar, SZA - "All The Stars"
Mixed by Matt Schaeffer
This one's similar to the Black Keys record. Yes, they sound totally different, but the way Matt Schaeffer navigates the reverb and delay reminds me of the way Tchad Blake handles the saturation and distortion. A lot the vibe in this track comes from the masterful (and copious) use of reverb and delay. When using a lot of these effects, it's easy to make things sound washed out, but this track sounds present, bright, and forward. To me, this is exactly what well-done time-based effects should sound like in a pop mix.
7. Cass McCombs - "That's That"
Mixed by Andrew Scheps
I think this is a perfect "band" mix. It sounds like a good band played a good song in a good room with good instruments, good gear, and a good engineer. And then they handed it off to Andrew Scheps. Sort of a recipe for success. I also love the vocal sound, especially that long reverb...sounds like an EMT 140, but I could be wrong.
8. Danny Brown - "Dirty Laundry"
Mixed by Ken "Supa Engineer" Duro
I love how rough-around-the-edges this mix sounds. It sort of sounds like all the vocals were recorded with a laptop microphone. There's some woofy low-midrange accumulation in the instrumental, the kick isn't particularly punchy, the background vocals are stepping on each other...but it all sounds great for the song. Even though the mix isn't technically "perfect" or "correct," anything else would have ruined it.
9. St Vincent - "Hang On Me"
Mixed by Tom Elmhirst
I've tried to emulate this snare sound so many times (with varying degrees of success). Apart from that being awesome, I'm a big fan of the vocal processing and the way all the parts fit together. This mix just has so much character, and even though there's not heaps of treble information, it still sounds present and modern.
10. Destroyer – "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood"
Mixed by Josh Wells
This mix is all about the guitars and synths for me. I love the picked guitar treatment and how gummy it sounds. It's such a simple part, but it fills out a really important part of the mix/arrangement. Meanwhile, the synths are beautiful...soft, enveloping, and spacious without being distracting at all.