It’s the time of year for saving money!
This may seem like an odd pairing, reviewing post punk pop-rock bands of different eras side by side, pitting America’s Interpol against Britain’s The Fall. But as I happened to listen to these two albums back to back (a purely random occurrence) I realized there was an interesting parallel which might be worth discussing here at Audiophilereview.
You see, I’m a big believer that the success of a recorded piece of music often has as much to do with the quality of the song writing as the production. And when the stars align, where the production and the musical balance are perfect, the music may well appeal to a broader audience. Thus it gets a little frustrating when you hear a band that you really like and know in your heart of hearts that if they chose the right production aesthetic they might well reach more people. That’s not to say these bands are not already quite successful — some of are considered legends in certain circles.
But when I put on the new album from Interpol called Marauder, I was hopeful that it might sound different than most previous releases by this intriguing New York-based band. And while the production is a little different — this time helmed by David Fridmann, noted for producing The Flaming Lips and a founding member of Mercury Rev — overall this still sounds like an Interpol album.
This is both a good and bad thing…
They’ve held onto their driving post-punk flavor for sure, but from an audiophile perspective this record leaves a lot to be desired. This is the point where I often have to separate my mind a bit in order to “hear” the music and not get bogged down in production details.
However given that you, Dear Readers, are in fact into how music sounds, I’ll be upfront: this album may not be your dream demo disc. No disrespect to the producers as I suspect this album’s overall sonic texture is intentional (given the band’s recorded history, I have to assume it is a choice preferred by the group). But to my ear it is a not especially complementary flavor to their music which is pretty epic at times. A certain level of harshness seems to envelope — and get in the way of my enjoyment of — the songs, at least on the vinyl pressing I have. And while I really don’t know why, I have my suspicions… but I won’t bore you with them as it would all be speculation… we just have to accept that it is what it is…
I will eventually learn to enjoy the album because I like the band. But, this all got more in my face when I put the Interpol album away and then put on a new reissue sent to me for review by The Fall called 45 84 89 A Sides. They are a group I had heard about from friends quite a bit and certainly had listened to them some – – I have a two CD “best of” collection – – but I was amazed at how much better The Fall’s old 80s-era music sounded than the new Interpol album. It was a night and day experience for me.
These recordings by The Fall have life in them, there is air and joy around the music. I know that’s perhaps a hard thing to get your head around as a reader but that is one of the differences between a good recording and a bad recording: the music takes you to a special place, no matter how dark the content of the song might be.
So I really like this “new” collection by The Fall, compiling their single A-sides issued between 1984 in 1989 on a single disc. I purposely put the word “new” in quotes however as this is in fact an older collection but one that has never been available in the United States for some reason. That is odd as this record seems like a perfect introduction to this band and it is a whole lot of fun to hear!
This reissue of 45 84 89 A Sides makes me want to get more records by The Fall and that is the ultimate compliment I can offer here.
45 84 89 A Sides is pressed on lovely white vinyl which sounds quite good all things considered. It is standard weight (sorry no 180-gram joy here) and, yes it has a little bit of surface noise present, but I only heard that briefly on the opening lead in groove. I wish I could say the same thing about the new Interpol album. The pretty cream colored vinyl there on Marauder is a little noisier and coupled with harshness I experienced, it really got in the way of my enjoyment of the music.
Your experience may vary, of course…
I went back to some of my older Interpol albums just to see if I was imagining things. The first album (Turn On The Bright Lights) sounds pretty clear and rich, all things considered. On the second album we start to hear that creeping fuzzy distortion effect coating the sound and despite the bigger production it was on their third album, Our Love To Admire (click here for my review of the CD remaster which touches on some of this topic). That vibe goes away mostly for their self titled fourth album, a record which is pretty sweet sounding relatively (arguably their best sounding album, and my personal favorite). Of course, that album apparently is also not a particular favorite of fans, from what I have been toldby friends (for what that is worth). This all makes me wonder — and this is purely guesswork — if that grit I dislike is in fact part of Interpol’s trademark sound? I don’t know for sure but it’s a palpable thing when you play some of their LPs on a high fidelity stereo system. It was back on their last album El Pintor and its here again on Marauder.
I bet this new Interpol album will sound pretty bitchin’ on a cheap boombox, an average car stereo or even over a pair of earbuds. If you like Interpol you should no doubt buy the new record (you probably already have!). Just set your expectations accordingly when playing it on your home stereo…
But, hey… listen for yourself and decide: both albums are streaming in CD quality up on Tidal so its easy to bounce back and forth. Click here for The Fall and here for Interpol. My computer crashed recently so until my new computer arrives I have not been able to listen to any of these Tidal streams via the Mytek Brooklyn DAC over my proper high fidelity stereo system. However… even just sampling pieces of these to records via TIDAL through my iPad (where I’ve written this review), I can hear the difference. Maybe you will as well…
The Fall singles on 45 84 89 A Sides pop madly (the initial batch of singles were produced by the great John Leckie). The Interpol album, on the other hand, never really lifts off to that other level where it could go sonics-wise. Again, I do like the songs here — Marauder sounds like another good Interpol record. I am simply wishing for them to make a truly great Interpol record, one where the production choices take their musicality to another level.
Hey, I just read your comments on the sound quality of Marauder. I bought the CD version, and it is LOADED with clipping, to the point that I eventually had to stop listening. It’s so bad, that I wrote to the label and asked if they were aware of any quality issues with the mastering. The fact that you heard it on your vinyl copy (I should add that I can’t stand vinyl) indicates to me that I might be onto something.
This is basically how it went down for me, just a couple of hours ago. I’d like to start by saying that I always buy CD or FLAC downloads, then copy them to special folders in my hard drive in 320 kbps mp3, before loading them onto my iPod and in Windows Media Player. My relationships with mp3s and my iPod are a matter of convenience; I’m looking forward to the day I can load up something portable with FLACs.
So, anyway, I was listening to the mp3s of Marauder in headphones, and they sounded positively destroyed. I thought it was my computer at first, or maybe I forgot something in the encoding process. After powering through the whole record to gauge the full extent of the problem, I listened to some other Interpol songs, and they DON’T sound distorted, and neither do any other songs I have from any other artist. Then, I went back to the CD, and the distortion was there, too.
All I can say is, “WOW, who thought THIS was good?!” I’m not a pro home recording guy as of right now, but I’m working toward it, and I would consider my career either finished or far from beginning if I let something like this get out. And yeah, I absolutely AM criticizing someone, cuz someone is to blame for this mess. I can’t listen to this record, cuz the clipping is absolutely fatiguing.
I scoured the internet looking for a pro audio take on this, and your article was the only one I found. You’re the only such person as of this message who has affirmed what I heard, setting aside the format differences. Someone else mentioned it in a Reddit post, but I didn’t see anyone claiming to be a pro audio person weigh in on the distortion. In addition to writing Matador, I wrote to a couple of actual pro people, hoping they might be able to weigh in.
Anyway, thanks for mentioning that you hear it, too.
Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience, Rob. Just saw your comment here now. I’ll start asking around a bit more on this. Kinda crazy…
No, really, from the bottom of my noobie-noob heart, I’m the one to thank YOU! I’m sorry no one else had the cojones to assess it the same way, but on the other hand, I was feeling like that asshole noob that had more to say than to show. Until…!
There was a certain mastering guru, name of whom shall not be revealed out of discretion, that agreed with me (his reaction in particular, summarized by me as, “UGH, I suspect it was deliberate,” was VERY telling). He didn’t want to get involved, cuz he wanted to focus on more positive subjects after so much fuss over another, shall we say, “voluminously embattled” subject in his field. I felt validated, nonetheless–I mean, it didn’t seem like anyone else noticed at all, and I really was worried that I’d just gotten a crappy CD burn (maybe the vinyl master by mistake?) from the CD factory.
I asked the label about this, too. They never replied to my inquiry, though. I’m going to look forward to a remix/remaster of this record in ten or twenty years, if I’m still alive and not feeling too old for it. Maybe by then, I’ll have the clout and the cojones to do it? LOL!