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Top 500 SuperSonic List - Part 8

05-04-2018 | By Claude Lemaire | Issue 97

This is an ongoing project by Claude Lemaire of Soundevaluations.


61. Pixies, Surfer Rosa. 4AD – 803 (UK) (1988), MoFi ‎– MFSL 1-296 (2009), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: alternative, garage rock, noise pop, punk

The words garage, punk, and noise rarely go hand in hand with audiophile, and yet this second release by the Bostonian band encompasses exactly that—a true melting pot of the above, thanks in large part to audacious musicians, a rarebreed producer-engineer named Steve Albini choosing to take the 'hands-off' approach, and a bold reissue label known for its rich creative catalogue. Coming off the heels of their debut mini-LP Come On Pilgrim [4AD MAD 709], Surfer Rosa recorded in November 1987, and released the following March represented a big leap in artistic and sonic maturity for the quartet. It remains one of their two best albums, along with the following 'slicker' release Doolittle. Here the sound is raw, primal, powerful, super dynamic–as far as rock recordings go—with abrasive dissonant guitars, 'gutsy' electric bass, deep drum impact that room-reverberates, screechy vocals, and a general fearless spunk attitude. There is no doubt Albini's direct-to-tape sound signature plus direction permeates the album, which as usual is closer to the real thing than any other 'normal' rock production can claim to be—lovely, and spectacular perhaps, but so far from reality. Having heard many of his engineering-productions with his own band Shellac, and others recorded in his Chicago studio, I can confidently say this Pixies LP strikes the best balance between them all. I did not have the original 4AD UK or US pressing to compare with, but MoFi's Shawn R. Britton did an outstanding remastering, and cutting job, and up there with the best 33 1/3 rpm cut MoFi's. For a more in-depth evaluation, you can go HERE.




62. Pixies, Doolittle. 4AD – 905 (UK France) (1989), MoFi ‎– MFSL 1-296 (2009), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: alternative, garage rock, noise pop

For any artist or band to successfully follow up a superb album is no easy task. The probability of disappointing music critics or your loyal fan base—for those who care about such things—by either repeating the same winning formula or doing a complete 180, is quite high. Fortunately for the Pixies, neither of these scenarios occurred. In fact, on the contrary, Doolittle did do a lot... in sales, chart positions, and received critical raves as much, if not more so than Surfer Rosa. Both releases remain highly original, and quintessentially influential in the alternative, noise pop, grunge scenes, especially so with Nirvana. Gil Norton replaced Albini as producer and engineer with assistance from Dave Snider and Matt Lane at Downtown Recorders in Boston... mixing was done by Steve Haigler at Carriage House Studios in Stamford CT. The overall sound is generally well balanced from top to bottom, with a few song structures exploiting the loud-quiet dynamic shift within, that again would distill down a few years later to Cobain's singing style along with the band's hard-soft, chorus-verse musical contrasts. Contrary to Surfer Rosa, and Albini's approach, here the textures are less raw, more polished, and adhere more to a good 'conventional' multi-track studio sound presentation. The original UK 4AD MPO (French) pressed LP cut by Jack Adams is generally quite good while MoFi engineer Rob LoVerde's remastering and cutting edges the original in certain specific areas, or on certain tracks, while with others it is almost a toss-up in personal taste. Both pressings are worth having. I would stay away from the US Elektra version for it is a DMM cutting instead of the typical warmer lacquer-cut. For a more in-depth evaluation, you can go HERE. 



63. Art Pepper, Art Pepper + Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics. Contemporary Records S 7568 (1959), Analogue Productions ‎– AJAZ 7568 (2003) (2x45 rpm). Genre: jazz, big band, bop, west coast, cool jazz

Pepper's Plus Eleven is the second of five LPs released between 1957 and 1963 on Lester Koenig's Contemporary jazz label; smack in the middle of the 'golden age' of jazz, and sound. Contrary to what the title might suggest, there are not eleven musicians accompanying him, but rather fifteen listed in the credits, so I'm guessing +11 simply signified an 'over the top' performance a la Spinal Tap! At any rate, this small 'big band' conducted by Marty Paich, and recorded expertly by Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer in March and May 1959, remains my favorite of the five releases for many reasons: because of the chosen 'classic' compositions—many from Dizzy and Charlie—Pepper's performance, and Paich's exquisite arrangements, perfectly showcasing, as well as blending, the brass's blattiness with a lightning fast rhythm section. The dynamic expressiveness of the many musicians is outstanding on both the faster boppish material, and the slower sweeping cooler ballads, beautifully breathing air down their reeds. I did not have an original 1959 Contemporary pressing to compare with, but do have the first Analogue Productions' version remastered and cut by Doug Sax in 1995 [APJ 017] which was quite excellent sounding, and leaning on the warm side with bloomy low mids, but also a micro-veil towards the top treble. The 2003 double 45 rpm cut by AcousTech's mastering team of Hoffman and Gray, not surprisingly, addresses the latter point, providing an airier top end, better bite and crunch to the trumpets and saxes, serving a livelier, subjectively faster, more energetic, dynamic snap with refined realism, at a tiny expense of losing a tad in 'tubey' 'romance', well worth the trade-off.



64. The Roots, Do You Want More?!!!??! Geffen Records – GEF 24708 (EU) (1994), (2x33 1/3 rpm). Geffen Records UMe – B00229918-01 (2015) (2x33 1/3 rpm), clear blue vinyl. Genre: hip hop, conscious, jazz rap, neo jazz

Most of mainstream America only discovered the group in 2009, and have been enjoying them ever since in their living rooms on a nightly basis, but Fallon's famous 'house band' has its Roots reaching back to 1993 with the 17 track independent release Organix. As its interrogative title suggest, Do You Want More?!!!??! is their major label debut follow-up album, which explains why the track sequencing starts out at number '18' instead of the usual numerical '1'. Originally released in 1994 as a double LP Euro import and as a shorter duration US promo [DGC PRO-A2-4693] for radio and deejays with fewer tracks and clean edits, it was not until 2015 that Geffen, through Universal Music Enterprises, decided to give it a proper 180g 'noise-free' reissue. In concert with disco, funk, and metal; hip hop has not garnered much attention or praise in the audiophile press, perhaps due in part to some 'bad apples,' ripe with extreme EQ or compression, contaminating the minds or leaving a 'bad taste' within many heads of sound departments. Admittedly a lack of quality remasterings in those musical genres, as opposed to the steady diet of jazz, classical, and common rock we normally get fed, equally enters the equation. What sets apart The Roots from many of their peers is that they are a full-fledged funky acoustic band, rather than a few guys rapping over some pre-recorded material, capable of jazzing things up as well as rocking it up live when called upon. Saxophonist Steve Coleman lends his lips on six tracks. Produced by Grand Negaz, it was recorded by David Ivory, Vince Kershner, and Gordon Rice at Sigma Sound Studios... plus Otto Capobianco at Nebula Sounds, both situated in Philadelphia, PA. Drummer and co-founder Ahmir-Kalib Thomson, aka Questlove, mixed the band, along with Bob Power, Tim Latham, Richard Nichols, A.J. Shine and Jim "Jiff" Hinger at either Sigma Sound or Studio 4 in Philly, PA, as well as Battery Studios in NYC. Tom Coyne at The Hit Factory in New York did a great mastering job. The in-room drum kit predominates throughout, sounding mostly natural if a little fatter yet fun... including fine snare textures. The total mix features plenty of punch in the lows, with nice bounce to the bass—acoustic and electric—plus clean non-aggressive highs. Tarik "Black Thought" Trotter's panned rapping-vocal arrangements add originality to the table. Despite its cohesion, there is just enough of mild sonic variety explored amongst songs to keep it refreshing, and counterbalance the somewhat minimalist repetitive tempos, and percussive patterns within the grooves. Lastly, the very low compression, contributes to a totally non-fatiguing listening pleasure.  


65. Cypress Hill, III (Temples of Boom). Columbia, Ruffhouse Records - C2 66991 (1995), (2x33 1/3 rpm). Genre: hip hop, gangsta, latin hip hop

Released within a year of the above Roots selection, Cypress Hill's third LP celebrates the darker side of hip hop, hence the gangsta subgenre qualifier. Though the themes, and lyrics may seem harder, bleaker, and even exploitative, the overall musical tracks do not differ that much from other contemporary rap genres, with the exception of skipping over any jazzy arrangements and horn-based instrumentation. What makes this double LP particularly interesting is the infusion of Indian influences in certain tracks, with subtle psychedelic sounds sending the listener into a dreamy state over hyp-hop-notic grooves, graced sometimes with syncopated sarcastic rapping. The tonal balance is mostly spot on with just the right amount of 'snap, crackle, and hop' to enhance the experience, including tight punchy kick, appropriately detailed highs, a few sustained sub-territory explorations, and generally low compression.

A final note:

Now don't go 'bonkers' if you have not found your favorite recording included in this List, just remember: we are still at the beginning of a long long journey...into sound.

For more from Claude Lemaire go to his blog...