The Record Room: October '22
What the algorithm is coughing up these days
Hiya, Machinists — I figured it might be of some interest to you people to hear about the songs and records that are living on my turntable or inside my Apparat these days. Maybe you’ll find something in here that piques your curiosity, that sparks something in you to seek out these songs and records for your *own* turntable or Apparat.
I’ll admit I was late to watch seasons 2-4 of Stranger Things, and so was *very* late to this sudden Kate Bush celebration/infatuation that enveloped the internet recently. I was working on my book, which heavily trades in 70s-80s horror tropes, and so wanted to avoid being influenced by Stranger Things’ all-consuming horror-trope fire-sale story. I did, however, bear witness to Carson and Hank’s watching of the show, and was in the living room when Carson came in, announcing that a Kate Bush song had played a pivotal part in an episode. “You know, the one about running,” she said. And so a viral phenomenon was born, and we all busted out our copies of Hounds of Love (some of us, our UK limited-edition marbled vinyl copies) and bathed in the witchiness of it all. Those who had covered this song in the recent past were suddenly thrust into a spotlight as every yayhoo on TikTok pitched their own version to the universe.
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I thought we were clear of all that, and then I saw that Wye Oak had released a single of their cover of the song from 2014. It was one of those A.V. Undercover Club things, back when the A.V. Club was roping touring musicians to come to their offices and perform a cover from a prescribed list. We did it once; it was fun. Wye Oak’s choice of “Running Up That Hill” was a prophetic one (how could we know that Kate Bush would emerge again into the zeitgeist in such a fashion?), but it’s also an inspired one. Jenn Wasner has a voice for the ages and I always suspected she had some KB in her genetic makeup. It’s a lovely version, and particularly amazing considering that it was recorded in the makeshift studio of a Chicago music site’s office.
Tyler Childers, I Swear (To God)
I read a thing about this guy, Tyler Childers, about he was putting out a triple LP with each disc featuring the same sequence of songs, each recorded or mixed in a different style. I thought that a weird and gutsy and perhaps a little ostentatious move, but I do have a track record of liking weird, gutsy, and ostentatious things. So I listened to the single for the record and I liked it okay. His voice hit a chord and I went back and listened to some of his earlier records. I spent a good couple days trying to fit Tyler Childers into one pile or another. Is this a latter-day, baggage-free Ryan Adams? Or a slightly left-of-center Blake Shelton? I know that’s a downright myopic exercise, but we all do it, don’t we? Anyway, I never really arrived at an answer. But I do think he has a voice to die for, and he hits all those little twangy three-note descending trills so well, so I kept coming back. This song, from his 2017 LP, Purgatory, does the Buck Owens thing so well and in such a way that you rarely see these days, particularly from a Blake Shelton type, even one that’s left-of-center. If that’s the pile he’s in.
The Beatles, Taxman
When pressed, as I frequently am, on what Beatles album I am, my stock answer is Revolver. I’m a Revolver man and I don’t care who knows it. The best songs, the best production, by the band at the height (I think) of its powers. So it was of some interest to me to hear that Giles Martin, using some kinda A.I. tomfoolery, was able to separate individual instruments from a master tape with only 4 tracks to make a new stereo mix of this record. For those of you who are unfamiliar in the ways of multi-track recording, I’ll give a brief primer: a multi-track recording unit records instruments on individual bands of a tape, ones that run horizontal along the tape, so that when they’re played back, all the instruments sound as if they’re playing together. There are definitely better ways to explain that, but that’s what I wrote, and that’s what’ll have to be. The Beatles came up at a time when this technology was quickly expanding and improving. Revolver was recorded on a four track tape machine; they had only four tracks to work with. That meant that multiple instruments had to live on a single track, making room for things like vocals and overdubbed sounds and instruments. This is all fine and good if you’re making a mono mix (meaning that all the instruments and sounds are coming through both speakers equally), but if you’re dealing with stereo, things get tricky. If your drums, bass, and rhythm guitar are all on one track, you can’t rightly split them up into the left and right channels or speakers. That’s why the stereo mix of Revolver is so odd (by today’s standards, at least). Listen to the old stereo mix of “Taxman” (preferably on headphones): the guitar, the bass, and the drums are all coming through the left channel, while George’s vocal (and the backing vocals) are coming through right in the middle. The vocal feels a little apart from the instruments. But you can’t even the balance out in a stereo mix when most of your instruments are all coming down one channel — the guitar, bass, and drums, will always travel together, whatever ear they’re coming into. That’s why the Beatles, famously, weren’t around for the stereo mixes of the early records. They only signed off on the mono mixes which, to them, at that time, were the preferred versions.
Anyway, Giles Martin, with the help of Peter Jackson, has somehow managed to separate those instruments, the ones that are living all one track, so he can pan them individually in a mix. I’ll believe when I see it. For now, we have “Taxman” remixed in this new, A.I.-created stereo. To my ears, they’re being pretty judicious with the technology — which is a good thing. This mix sounds like the mono mix, basically, with a few stereo elements thrown in. In any case, it’s a fantastic song, of course, despite its rather self-centered attitude toward progressive taxation. Curious to see what becomes of the rest of the album.
And that’s it for now! What’s finding its way into your earpodbuds these days?