Reference Tracks (Week of 11/30/20)
Here's this week's list of mixes I love and the reasons why...
1. HAIM - "Summer Girl - Bonus Track"
Mixed by Ariel Rechtshaid, Rotsam Batmanglij, Shawn Everett
This track is a useful reference for a couple reasons. First, I love the vocal treatment. Crisp but not harsh, verbed but not washed out, present but not squashed. I reference this a lot for vocal placement and tone. Another thing I like is the structure of the low-end. To me, it sounds like there's an upright bass panned hard left and a fretless electric bass on the right with a saturated kick up the middle. It's not a conventional treatment, but the hard panning really opens up the track. Plus, the way the basses cede a lot of low-end to the kick means the track never feels off-kilter.
2. Animal Collective - "Bluish"
Mixed by Ben Allen
There was a 2-year period in my early teens where this was practically the only band I listened to. Animal Collective records are often incredibly dense, both rhythmically and harmonically. Ben Allen does a masterful job of incorporating all the various synthetic elements, drenching the track in reverb/delay without making things sound too diffuse. To me, this is a great reference for modern "wall-of-sound" mixing.
3. T. Rex - "Mambo Sun"
Mixed by Roy Baker, Malcolm Cecil, Rik Pekkonen, and Martin Rushent
I love the way this record sounds. Every instrument is so separate, almost as if each one occupies its own little world. This one really reminds me of "Everlasting Light" by The Black Keys (reviewed a while ago). I love how the saturation makes everything sound gooey and the compression brings Marc Bolan's vocal to the fore. Also, the instrument separation, clarity, and stereo imaging, make this is a great reference for testing new playback systems.
4. ilham - "uh huh"
Produced by Dustin Cavazos
I couldn't find a mix credit for this one so I've credited the producer. I'm a big fan of this record because of the way it plays with stereo. Specifically, I like how everything is kept fairly mono except the background vocals, adlibs, and reverbs. This technique gives the low-end a lot of impact while allowing the vocals to pop.
5. Phoenix - "J-Boy"
Mixed by Michael Brauer
This one's all about the drums and bass for me. The drums hit hard and the space around them is incredible (flanged gated reverb), but to me, the magic is in their relationship with the synth bass line. The drum pattern is quite simple...really just a basic rock beat. Alone, it might even feel stilted. But the track is so groovy because of the way the syncopated bass line dances around the beat. Of course this is partially an arrangement/production thing, but the mix is so mindful of the pocket. The way the bus compression—a technique for which Brauer is famous—glues the elements and makes the rhythm section undulate is fantastic.
6. Pavement - "Starlings of the Slipstream"
Mixed by Bryce Goggin
I like the way this track is sort of rough around the edges. To me, it sounds quite earnest. There are no crazy production or mix tricks going on. It just sounds like a good recording of a good band playing a good song. I also like how dynamic Stephen Malkmus's vocal is. To me, it doesn't sound like there's a crazy amount of compression going on. At times, he almost gets overpowered by the instrumental. I think this treatment works well for the song because it enhances the live and organic feel.
7. Dua Lipa - "Don't Start Now"
Mixed by Josh Gudwin
There's a lot to love about this mix. To me, it sort of represents the pinnacle of modern pop mixing. The drums are impactful and bouncy, the lead vocal is present without being harsh, and there's so much movement. One thing I LOVE is the gated slap/short verb on the lead vocal in the chorus. Not sure if this was done during production or mix, but it's fantastic. It adds so much texture and glues the groove together. Also, the upper midrange on this track is exquisite, helping things translate everywhere I've listened.
8. Zach Hill - "Dark Art"
Mixed by John Golden
I love how trashy this mix sounds. All the elements are sort of stepping on each other, the vocals are super distorted, the drums are brash and aggressive. Maybe it's not technically perfect (whatever that means), but the mix fits the track so well, enhancing the energy and dynamism.
9. Alaska Reid - "Boys from Town"
Produced by AG Cook and Tom Stafford
This mix is so nice on the ears. I love how the lows and low-mids sound. They're pretty pronounced, especially in the chorus, but they never feel overpowering or muddy. The low-mids also have a nice width to them, making the record feel like a big hug.
10. Tom Petty - "I Won't Back Down"
Mixed by Dennis Kirk and Don Smith
What's not to like about this one?! I'm a huge fan of the splatty snare. I love the treatment of the synth pad. I also like how dry and controlled Petty's verse vocal is against the bombast of the instrumental.