Author Topic: Production differences in Anna's music  (Read 1404 times)

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Lady Tchaikovsky

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Production differences in Anna's music
« on: January 07, 2014, 08:26:24 PM »
Edit: Beginning with a discussion of Fire, we move into wider thoughts on the production of Anna's music in general. What are everyone's thoughts?

Thanks. I'm wondering because the production is far from perfect in comparison with pretty much anything she released before One Breath. The reverbs on the vocals sound too synthetic in my opinion, although they are still better than those in The Bridge, Sing To Me (backing vocals), Cry (backing vocals), etc. Also, it worries me a bit that Fire is yet another song in which the bass frequencies are much too loud. Too much bass amounts to less details and result in the song sounding a bit dull. I think Rob Ellis did such a fantastic job with Anna's debut because it sounded really natural and well-balanced, whereas Congleton's production of One Breath is a bit bland and, I'd say, not a good job from the technical point of view. I hope she doesn't collaborate with him anymore, to be frank...
« Last Edit: January 08, 2014, 12:00:55 AM by electriclight »

electriclight

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Re: Production differences in Anna's music
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2014, 09:31:39 PM »
Thanks. I'm wondering because the production is far from perfect in comparison with pretty much anything she released before One Breath. The reverbs on the vocals sound too synthetic in my opinion, although they are still better than those in The Bridge, Sing To Me (backing vocals), Cry (backing vocals), etc. Also, it worries me a bit that Fire is yet another song in which the bass frequencies are much too loud. Too much bass amounts to less details and result in the song sounding a bit dull. I think Rob Ellis did such a fantastic job with Anna's debut because it sounded really natural and well-balanced, whereas Congleton's production of One Breath is a bit bland and, I'd say, not a good job from the technical point of view. I hope she doesn't collaborate with him anymore, to be frank... Still, this topic is just about the song Fire, so I apologize for the digression.

I like this digression though... It's interesting that you say that, because as much as I love Rob Ellis I found the debut slightly harsh on the ears in its production. Obviously I'm no expert on the recording process, so I don't really know how to describe what I mean that well. Though it is true that there was great clarity between the instruments on the debut (albeit a bit trebley for my liking), and that was really enjoyable. I do prefer the backing vocals on the debut to the ones on One Breath.

I wonder if the maybe slightly muddy undertones of One Breath are due to Anna's choice of instruments and her evolving sound more than because of John Congleton's choices alone? It seems like there was a lot less going on the debut in terms of the breadth of instruments, and the guitar was sort of the focus of the instrumental work. In that sense I can understand why there are differences between the two albums in their recording. I'd like to know more about the things that bother you about the recording of One Breath, because I feel like you'd be able to explain them better than I can and I'll probably agree with you anyway.

Lady Tchaikovsky

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Re: Production differences in Anna's music
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2014, 11:14:35 PM »
I like this digression though... It's interesting that you say that, because as much as I love Rob Ellis I found the debut slightly harsh on the ears in its production. Obviously I'm no expert on the recording process, so I don't really know how to describe what I mean that well. Though it is true that there was great clarity between the instruments on the debut (albeit a bit trebley for my liking), and that was really enjoyable. I do prefer the backing vocals on the debut to the ones on One Breath.

I wonder if the maybe slightly muddy undertones of One Breath are due to Anna's choice of instruments and her evolving sound more than because of John Congleton's choices alone? It seems like there was a lot less going on the debut in terms of the breadth of instruments, and the guitar was sort of the focus of the instrumental work. In that sense I can understand why there are differences between the two albums in their recording. I'd like to know more about the things that bother you about the recording of One Breath, because I feel like you'd be able to explain them better than I can and I'll probably agree with you anyway.

Yes, I agree that the debut sounded a tad harsh. I might be idealizing it because it's probably my favorite album of all time (nothing is set in stone as long as Anna keeps releasing music though, haha), and it's mostly perfect to me, but I really liked that kind of harsh. It had that 60s tube recording grittiness to it. Like, the highest frequencies were crystal clear, but in general it was a tiny bit, hm, dusty? It just sounded completely natural.

It's a great point that there was a different set of instruments used on the debut, and that the importance of those instruments that made an appearance on both records varied as well. Maybe I'm not particularly ecstatic about the changes Anna has made, but don't get me wrong, I think One Breath is a great album. I really appreciate the inclusion of vibraphone and marimba, for instance. It's just my opinion of course, but despite what Anna says, I hear more textures on the first record due to how rich it was in terms of each instrument's tone. Both Anna and Rob Ellis definitely worked very hard in order to shape and emphasize the character of even the tiniest sounds. However, I feel that on One Breath the tone is often lost because of the production. The biggest difference production-wise, I suppose, is the drumming. While it was very clear and majestic on the first album, on One Breath it's just muffled and, I'd even say, marginalized. It doesn't sound rich anymore, nor does it draw my attention in any way. It simply is there, failing to impress me the way it used to. And this is Congleton's doing, because muffled drums seem to be his specialty judging by St. Vincent's two albums. Yes, it was great for her music, but Anna needs the exact opposite in my opinion. Well, I've got many issues with Congleton's work, but these, apart from the atrocious reverbs, are at the top of my list. I just feel One Breath would have been a lot more distinctive (free from restraint in a way) if there had been a more suitable person behind its production. But as I said, this is just my personal impression, and I'm in no way arguing with anyone else's.

edit.
Could this be split into a new thread? I think it's an interesting discussion, but totally off the topic as of now, haha
« Last Edit: January 07, 2014, 11:17:52 PM by Lady Tchaikovsky »

moulinette

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Re: Production differences in Anna's music
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2014, 12:30:23 AM »
I'm definitely not an expert on production, but something was a bit off with the post-mixing of the first album I think, because the vinyl was is quite compressed sounding and I haven't noticed that with One Breath.

I just wish there was a way to obtain the instrumentals of One Breath. I love listening to the Anna Calvi ones and it helps me notice all the subtleties of the album, because I otherwise get distracted by the vocals.

electriclight

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Re: Production differences in Anna's music
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2014, 12:55:14 AM »
Yes, I agree that the debut sounded a tad harsh. I might be idealizing it because it's probably my favorite album of all time (nothing is set in stone as long as Anna keeps releasing music though, haha), and it's mostly perfect to me, but I really liked that kind of harsh. It had that 60s tube recording grittiness to it. Like, the highest frequencies were crystal clear, but in general it was a tiny bit, hm, dusty? It just sounded completely natural.

Yeah I tend to idealise it in a similar way haha. The way it was produced was so detail oriented (as you say), which made it so easy to get lost in, and that's my favourite kind of music. I find that the harshness is only bothersome when using less than ideal headphones anyway (or blasting it at unearthly volumes). It felt like Rob Ellis and Anna had a really clear vision of how they wanted the instrumental side of the album to sound when it came out of the studio, and they managed to keep that consistent without being tedious. The only words I can think of to describe the result is magically atmospheric!

It's a great point that there was a different set of instruments used on the debut, and that the importance of those instruments that made an appearance on both records varied as well. Maybe I'm not particularly ecstatic about the changes Anna has made, but don't get me wrong, I think One Breath is a great album. I really appreciate the inclusion of vibraphone and marimba, for instance. It's just my opinion of course, but despite what Anna says, I hear more textures on the first record due to how rich it was in terms of each instrument's tone. Both Anna and Rob Ellis definitely worked very hard in order to shape and emphasize the character of even the tiniest sounds. However, I feel that on One Breath the tone is often lost because of the production. The biggest difference production-wise, I suppose, is the drumming. While it was very clear and majestic on the first album, on One Breath it's just muffled and, I'd even say, marginalized. It doesn't sound rich anymore, nor does it draw my attention in any way. It simply is there, failing to impress me the way it used to. And this is Congleton's doing, because muffled drums seem to be his specialty judging by St. Vincent's two albums. Yes, it was great for her music, but Anna needs the exact opposite in my opinion. Well, I've got many issues with Congleton's work, but these, apart from the atrocious reverbs, are at the top of my list. I just feel One Breath would have been a lot more distinctive (free from restraint in a way) if there had been a more suitable person behind its production. But as I said, this is just my personal impression, and I'm in no way arguing with anyone else's.

I think that what you've said about John Congleton is spot on. The only drumming that really stood out to me on One Breath was the instrumental bliss that occurs in Suddenly. I might be showing my phobia of change when I say this, but it was really comforting to once again hear the discordant clashing of instruments that occurred throughout the debut. Congleton does have a focus on a more electronic style of production, and to me it tends to make the music less emotive. Technically it can be interesting and innovative to combine that kind of recording process with Anna's very organic sound, but it seems to be at risk of losing the very honest and natural passion Anna puts into her music - which we can see is still there when she performs the songs from One Breath live. I don't mean to say at all that it was a mistake to choose John Congleton, because change is a necessary part of being a creative artist. She should do what she wants really, because it makes her entire canon all the more interesting if she's going to keep exploring new sounds/producers in her albums. It's all a matter of taste anyway, and I'm glad Anna had the confidence to move into what was probably a new style of recording for her. But as you've hinted, John Congleton is undeniably less detail-oriented that Rob Ellis was, and I think in places that it shows.

Having said that, I love the recording of Love of my Life. I think everything in it works in perfect synchronicity to make a very deep and powerful recording. I don't think everyone agrees on that, but I even love the muddy guitar solo. It's always great to hear new experiments in tone from Anna that relate specifically to her guitar, and it makes me excited for what might be to come :)