March 31, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-31-12

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

* Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine, 1610 (La Capella Reial, et al./Savall) (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Marais: Pieces a Deux Violes du Premier Livre, 1686 (Savall, et al.) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Marais: Pieces de Viole du Second Livre, 1701 (Savall, et al.) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Handel: Organ Concertos, Op.4 (Academy of Ancient Music/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Sun Ra & His Arkestra: A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo CD)
* Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Scanner & The Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink Of An Eye (Thirsty Ear CD)
* John Lee Hooker: Chill Out (Pointblank CD)
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (Lost Highway CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Deluxe Edition) (Rolling Stones/Universal 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum, New Haven, CT 10-25-79 (set 2) (d.1) (SBD 2CDR)
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here: Limited Edition SACD (Pinkfloyd/EMI SACD)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Chicago: VI (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: VII (Columbia 2LP)
* Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Phil Collins: Hello, I Must Be Going! (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Phil Collins: No Jacket Required (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* David Sylvian: Gone To Earth (Virgin 2LP)
* Lee Ranaldo: Between The Times And The Tides (Matador LP)
* Guided By Voices: “Keep It In Motion” (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Robert Pollard: Mouseman Cloud (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Opeth: Orchid (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Meshuggah: Koloss (Nuclear Blast CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore 2LP)
* The Mars Volta: Tremulant EP (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CDEP)
* The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Scabdates (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Amuptecture (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: The Bedlam In Goliath (Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Octahedron (Warner Bros. CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet (Warner Bros. CD) (†/‡)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop EP)



My friend and musical compatriot, Sam Byrd, turned me on to The Mars Volta last Christmas when he came to Nashville for a visit. Knowing I was getting way into progressive rock, he thought I would appreciate their post-modern take on the genre and gave me a copy of their 2005 CD, Frances The Mute. Well, he was right—I was blown away right from the first! The Mars Volta are prog alright, but they also draw from a wide variety of genres such as ambient electronica, experimental metal, neo-psychedelia, avant-noise and jazz-rock fusion, just to name a few. Moreover, they foreground their Mexican/Puerto Rican roots, singing both in Spanish and English and introducing swinging and sultry Latin rhythms into the mix. Let’s face it: most prog-rock is white as a sheet and The Mars Volta brings a welcome diversity and hip-shaking libido to its multi-metered grooves. I immediately started collecting the rest of their albums on CD—but, as much as I liked the music, I didn’t really enjoy listening to them.

You see, The Mars Volta are the (perhaps willing) victims of “The Loudness Wars,” where CDs are mastered to be as loud as possible—and beyond. This is nowhere more apparent than on their new disc, Noctourniquet, which, according to this, has a measured dynamic range of 3dB. That is to say: the difference between the softest and the loudest sound on the disc is a measly three decibels—barely perceptible! Accordingly, any musical subtleties are completely obliterated and, even worse, when things get loud, the peaks are “clipped,” thereby inducing audible distortion—and not just any kind of distortion (like the sweet sound of overdriven vacuum tubes)—but digital distortion, the nastiest sound in the world. The only time this disc might sound even remotely OK is bombing down the Interstate with the windows open. But then again: no, not even then (I tried it this morning). I’m sorry, but this disc sounds like crap! Why pay money for a CD that sounds like a low-bit MP3? I say go ahead and steal it online; it’s not worth anything.

Good grief! No wonder the record industry is collapsing.

What really bums me out is that the music is, as usual with The Mars Volta, utterly brilliant. I really want to like this record, but I could never love it. Why, oh, why do so-called “artists” allow their music to be foisted upon the public sounding so bad? Oh sure, there’s a limited edition 2-LP edition coming out in a couple of months and it may or may not sound better. But, come on folks, we’re well into the 21st Century already. I love my vinyl as much as anyone but dragging a needle through plastic? Really? Is that the best we can do? Heck, the compact disc, as flawed as the format might be, has a dynamic range of 96dB—way beyond what even the best LP playback mechanism can achieve without launching the needle off the platter. Why do people love their vinyl? Because, beyond their fetish value, sometimes a bit of dynamic range lost on the poorly-mastered CD is restored, even when taken from a digital source. Go figure. But the fact is: the compact disc can sound very, very good—just check out any of Steve Hoffman’s work at Audio Fidelity for proof. SACD and DVD-Audio remain niche formats but plain old DVD is capable of significantly better sound than CD and Blu-Ray offers virtually unlimited resolution in multiple formats from mono to 7.1 multichannel. Frankly, there is no reason for Noctourniquet to sound as bad as it does. While overloud CDs are the norm these days, this is by far one of the worst I’ve ever heard. I can only assume producer and Volta’s musical mastermind, Omar Rodriguez-L√≥pez, wanted it to sound like this. God knows why. This is great music rendered nearly unlistenable—a genuine tragedy.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Yikes! Sorry to read about all that DR stuff--pretty grim.

Here are my lists from last week:

Playlist 2012-04-02:

*Ad Hoc Quartet: 2011-11-26 Pyramid Atlantic (wav)
*Roscoe Mitchell's Cards For Orchestra Project: 2009-08-30 Sant'Anna Arresi, Italy (CDR)
*New Loft: 2012-03-21 “Time for No Time” (wav)
*Howard Riley-Tony Oxley Orchestra: 1970-01-23 Hamburg (CDR)
*Sun Ra: 1971-08-17 Slug's NYC (CDR)
*Sun Ra & His Space Arkestra: 1977-08-14 Washington DC (CDR)
*Henry Threadgill Zooid: 2007-05-17 Jazz Gallery, NYC (CDR) disc 2
*3-2-1: Improvisations (1984): Longer Than 3-2-1 (CDR)
*Beach Boys: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey (two-fer)
*Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions (discs 1, 4)
*Beatles: A Hard Day's Night Studio Sessions: Back to Basics Vol. 2 disc 2 (boot CDR)
*Beatles: For Sale Studio Sessions: Back to Basics disc 2 (boot CDR) selections
*Beatles: Help! Studio Sessions: Back to Basics (boot CDR) disc 1
*Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard
*Grateful Dead: 1972-10-18 St. Louis (CDR) disc 2
*Mars Volta: Frances the Mute
*Opeth: Watershed
*Opeth: Heritage
*Rutles: Lunch
*St. Vincent: Actor
*Tad Thaddock: Pinching a Punk
*Tad Thaddock: Brenda Baby
*Tad Thaddock: Touch the Bunny
*Stevie Wonder: 1973-07-04 Brixton, England (CDR)

Reading List 2012-04-02:

*Cage, John. Silence (in progress)
*Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow (reread/in progress)