Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Sruel Quay" Released!

Many years in the making, "Sruel Quay" is finally here...a last scraping together of UPhold music that's been languishing during the last few years. You can get it as a free download from Bandcamp, including some beautiful cover and back artwork (photographs by Patrick, design by Dave McEwen), or you can just listen to the whole thing online if you're so inclined!

So what's the story? When I first started to use Logic Express 6 in 2003, I went through the usual learning curve of trying out a whole bunch of grand concepts that I couldn't complete at the time. As my knowledge and skill increased I started newer projects, which eventually became the "Damage" and "Roade" albums. Meanwhile, those early songs languished, getting further and further down the date-sorted list of "Multitrack" projects on my hard drive.

Then I bought a new, spiffy iMac, and while I saved money to eventually buy Logic Studio 8 for it, I decided to go back to the old eMac and finish off those songs before the hard drive disintegrated. I spent about a year dredging up 6-year-old songs and reworking them with the new experience and distance I'd acquired: "Bomb," "Devil Woman!", "Foozebox," "Humpback Forty-Four," and "The Swive (Part One)" were the results, and I planned to finish off a few more and release them as "False Memory Syndrome."

The problem was, by the time I'd finished these songs I'd finally started work with Logic 8, and I was no longer satisfied with how those dinosaurs sounded. They all relied on plugins I could no longer acquire (Pluggo and Mode) so I couldn't continue working on them with the new computer...they were frozen in time and technology. To make them even marginally better I'd need to spend more effort on them than I felt they deserved.

In the meantime I'd created some soundtracks to little video experiments ("Phonebox/Lunchbox," "Lightbox," "Boxcar," and "Caboodle"), and contributed to a compilation (a remix of "Icebox" on "Powdered Heaven Dressed in Plastic") and a split release with Infant Cycle ("Folded Memory Syndrome" and "Shut The Fuck Up Delia/Dmitri" on "Our Past Present").

In addition, I'd created a remix ("Roadbird") from the "Roade" album, and a remix of THAT remix with Chad Faragher. I also had a new song ("The Voyage of HMCS Thumpy") that I was spending so much time working on a video for that I simply got sick of it.

These were the bits and pieces I had lying around. What they all had in common was that they either couldn't be further improved due to technological limitations (both "Roadbird (Metal Mix)" and "Voyage of HMCS Thumpy" had ham-fisted mastering attempts so burned into their original tracks that they'd be very difficult to rescue) or had appeared on CDs from other venues (eg. "Shut the Fuck Up Delia/Dmitri," which I think is probably the best thing I've ever done...I wouldn't change a note).

In short: they were good enough to release, but generally fell short of what I'd expect people to PAY for. Like I said, I COULD improve them if I spent a lot of time and effort, but the improvement would be so marginal that it wouldn't justify the work.

With all that in mind, I hope you enjoy these oddities! They're a farewell to "UPhold" and the old ways of doing things. They sum up six years of my life: a time of personal exploration, sudden world experience, half-assed notoriety, and -- most obvious in many of the songs -- a degree of self-destructive too-much-fun behaviour that peaked and then subsided.

I'm surprised at how well "Sruel Quay" holds together as an album, and I look forward to what the first "Lemurian Congress" release will sound like!

Monday, March 07, 2011

"Kaffe Katt" by Pico & Alvarado

Several months ago, Kevin Cogliano -- the "Alvarado" in "Pico & Alvarado" -- sent me a demo titled something like "That's What I Call 80s!"

And he was right. It was a perfect distillation of the fun pop songs we'd grown up with, all jangly and bouncy and downright carefree.

My task -- as I saw it -- was to maintain that feeling while simultaneously beefing up the song and over complicating it, adding enough twists and turns to make even the most ADD listener happy. One reason I wanted to do this was because I felt that "Style Kitchen" had never gotten the loving care it had deserved (an opinion -- I realize now -- more to do with overexposure to the song than to any actual defects), but also because I know I shy from experimentation...I don't like throwing in big changes, moving things around a timeline, or trying anything new.

So consider the final result -- "Kaffe Katt" -- as a journey outside my comfort zone. And while I'm still too close to it to give it an honest evaluation, I think it's pretty darn good.

(Photograph "Awning" by Patrick!)

Want to know more? Here's the finished timeline:

You'll notice a LOT of guitar tracks this time. The first track is the ongoing "cha-cha-chung" with a nice flange, and many of the rest are Kevin's experiments with doubling. The final four guitar tracks are more recent versions that he sent along during the course of the project, but I loved the rougher ones in the original batch...the cleaner tracks (including a nice delayed guitar) provide a good gentle conclusion.

My first real bombastic addition was the "G Blast" guitar, which coincides with a hyperactive series of crashes at the end of every verse. Kevin's guitar was already going manic during those segments but I really wanted to bash them "G Blast" gets the "Modern UK Stack" treatment with Guitar Amp Pro, and the "crashes" are just a re-routed track from EZDrummer boosted all the way to heaven.

EZDrummer provides the main beat, while Ultrabeat provides a non-stop 4/4 kick and iDrum adds a snare and -- during the high point -- all those cheap drum effects. Lots and lots of drums in here, but I think it works.

Kevin's original tracks had included a Hammond-ish organ and a synth bassline...I kept the organ (augmented with the EVB plugin) but used his MIDI files with the same Minimoog/Taurus IK Multimedia "SampleMoog" preset I'd created for an earlier song. Also from IK Multimedia is the choir in the third section and the recurring pizzicato violin that I hope is "interesting" instead of "annoying."

This song's big additional experiment: Loomer's brilliant "String" instrument, which emulates 70s string machines WITHOUT eating all your CPU (and all your money). I'm totally in love with Loomer String and I highly recommend it.

The really abrasive portamento synth is Tal-Elek7ro, based off the "LD Club Saw XS" preset. There's also some Ensoniq ESQ in there with the organ stabs and the bells, and some really inconsequential DOD pitch/echo modulation on the plucky violins.

And there you have it!