CD loudness war

I’m getting really hacked off with CD “brick walling” (Google “CD loudness war” to see the subject of my latest rant). I’ve recently bought a few CDs and the majority are affected by this stupid obsession with making the sound as loud as possible, at the expense of the music itself. What I’m hearing is the potential of good music which is veiled by clipping, distortion, crackling and generally being so loud that everything is at the same volume. There’s practically no dynamic range, at all, with everything being pushed up into the last few available decibels. The result is that waveform peaks get chopped off – so effectively there are no longer any peaks but instead there are “flats”, leading to lost information and distortion. A comparison between your typical, recent CD and a recording released now by B&W’s Society of Sound illustrates the glaring deficiencies of many recent commercial releases. What a difference. Generally speaking, my early CDs sound so much better than later ones, and I’m not talking about the style of music.

It’s getting worse. These days, a “digital remaster” re-release of an older album generally means that it’s louder. So that’s good, isn’t it? Well, no. Record companies need to understand that we’re not all earbud-toting, cloth-eared teenagers and give their mastering engineers some room for manoeuvre. Louder doesn’t equal better, for goodness’ sake. I would rather turn up the volume of something I like, than turn down the volume because it’s a wall of noise.

It’s no wonder the popularity of vinyl is on the increase.

Apostrophe crimes

Yes, that’s “crimes”, not “crime’s”! Come on; the rules are so simple! Think possessive and contraction: these should enable anyone to get it right the vast majority of the time. I have to follow the makeshift sign for “car’s” on my way into the office car park; I see advertisements for “orange’s and clementine’s” in the canteen; there’s a massive sign over the furniture shop in town, simply stating, “BED’S”… is it my imagination, or are these crimes on the increase? Look, just because you write the plural form of a word, that doesn’t mean it needs an apostrophe. Heck, just because the word ends with an “s” doesn’t necessarily mean it needs an apostrophe! Example: the dog’s paws. There’s more than one paw and they belong to the dog. The plural of paw – paws – has no apostrophe. We’re (that’s a contraction of we are, by the way) talking about the paws of the dog, so the dog possesses the paws, hence the apostrophe in dog’s. Get it?

Disappointed

I have bought three new CDs within two days. This is fairly unusual, I suppose, but it so happens that three of the outfits that I follow have recently released new albums. These are Air – “Love 2”, David Sylvian – “Manafon” and Zero7 – “Yeah Ghost”.

I have loved Air’s stuff since I discovered “Moon Safari” years ago. I bought “Talkie Walkie” when it was released, sound unheard, then bought their two previous releases on the strength of my reaction to that. “Premiers Symptomes” is an EP released originally before “Moon Safari” – their first full album – and “10,000 Hz Legend” came after. Although “10,000 Hz Legend” is a bit weird and experimental in parts, I do still like it, although I’ve always felt that it was a deviation from what they did best. Thankfully, “Talkie Walkie” showed the duo building on the strengths of “Moon Safari” with a more refined air (pun not intended but I’ll leave it in anyway). Then “Pocket Symphony” was released and, again, I purchased it sound unheard. Their finest album, in my opinion, with parts that can only be described as gorgeous. Yeah, Air’s stuff can be described as ’70’s inspired, laid-back, trip-hop, lounge music but “Pocket Symphony” needs to be chilled-out to to be believed. And now we have “Love 2”.

Oh dear. Many reviews say that this album is Air being back to their best, but I just don’t get it. This one goes to the bottom of the pile for me; below “10,000 Hz Legend” and confined to the doesn’t-quite-work shelf. I was expecting something on-par with “Talkie Walkie” or maybe even “Pocket Symphony” but this is something entirely different. At least, that is how it sounds to me at the moment. Some reviewers are saying it needs multiple listens, so I’ll reserve further judgement until I’ve had a bit more time with it. (Later edit: OK, it’s beginning to grow on me). (Even later edit: yeah, all right – I like it).

The second album is David Sylvian’s “Manafon”. I’ve been following Sylvian’s work (and that of his ex-Japan bandmates) since the mid 1980’s and can honestly say I’ve really liked most of it even though he does change direction more often that I have hot dinners. He has collaborated with a diverse set of musicians over the years, from Holger “tune that shortwave radio” Czukay (Can) to Robert Fripp (King Crimson). Most recently Sylvian worked with his brother, Steve Jansen, and Burnt Friedman on the Nine Horses project which had a big thumbs-up from me. Just prior to this, Sylvian recorded “Blemish” where he decided to use his voice as the only melody and have improvised noises and minimalist “free jazz” going on in the background. “Blemish” received very polarised reviews and I am still in the camp of people who just don’t feel comfortable with it. This isn’t the first time Sylvian has experimented with improvisation – the most notable perhaps being Rain Tree Crow which is supposed to be a set of improv sessions with his ex-Japan bandmates but instead sounds like a polished and well-rehearsed set – but it is unique, all the same. Some people feel that a solemn voice with plinky-plunk random guitar-picking in the background sounds great and others do not; you either love it or you hate it. I had thought that Blemish was a blip and that maybe, one day, it might grow on me – but never mind as Nine Horses is the way it’s going now. Not so. Manafon is more Blemish than anything else Sylvian has done, though it’s not quite as raw; perhaps because Blemish was writen and recorded whilst Sylvian was breaking up with his wife. More “free jazz” melody-free noise accompanying the voice here, which I just don’t get on with. Perhaps another for repeated listens before I pass final judgement. (Later edit: nope).

Finally, “Yeah Ghost”. This one I have listened to three times already and I can say that I am thoroughly disappointed in Zero7’s latest effort. What on earth have they done? “Simple Things”, “When It falls” and “The Garden” – all brilliant, luscious, smooth chill-out. So what the heck is “Yeah Ghost” all about? They have replaced their primary guest vocalist but they may as well have called themselves something else; in fact, I wish they had done so that I would have missed this out. It seems Zero7 have decided to experiment and I’d say the experiment is a success – in proving that they should stick to the kind of thing that they do best. This is incoherent noise with a smattering of the occasional catchy piece and an even rarer glimpse of Zero7. I’m all for bands trying different things, otherwise there would be too much pointless repetition, but I feel Zero7 have done themselves an injustice here. (Later edit: it’s grown on me somewhat but I still prefer the older style, given a choice).