Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Arcade Fire and Analog Recording

I was just reading Jon Pareles's article from late July about The Arcade Fire's new album, The Suburbs, which I have enjoyed on a couple of listens but not yet fallen in love with.

He describes the band:
The band is simultaneously a throwback to a more heroic age of rock and a glimmer of hope in a digital era that forces musicians to fend for themselves. It prizes the sounds and methods of a disappearing era: hand-played instruments, analog recording, albums made to be heard as a whole.
(In today's paper, Ben Sisario questions whether they can still be an "indie rock band" if they're hitting #1 on the charts.)

And later, he describes their recording process:
The band took its time recording “The Suburbs,” working and reworking songs for much of a year in homes and studios, using 24-track tape. “I’d hate to take a guess at the budget,” Mr. [Win] Butler [the main singer and lyricist] said, but he added that part of the cost was equipment the band would continue to use, including a 1940s mixing console with vacuum tubes. Each completed song was pressed onto a 12-inch disc, and the vinyl playback was recorded for the final digital master.

“We recorded it on tape, we press it to vinyl, and the digital is the archive of this physical thing that exists in the world,” Mr. Butler said. “We’re preserving it and using digital as a mode of distribution, but ultimately there was something real that was made.”
A few things are interesting here. First, why bother with the vinyl pressing? Why not record the digital straight from the tape? The tape would still be the desired 'physical thing that exists in the world,' and the sound quality would be higher on the digital edition because of one less step in the production process.

Second, what ends up being rather ironic is the fact that the album went to #1 on the Billboard charts because of a special MP3 download deal on Amazon (which is, in fact, how I purchased the album).

At any rate, I do admire their music and their sound, and I -- as I've discussed here, for instance -- am a big believer in the album format: a long-form collection of not-necessarily-long songs. So I appreciate their sentiment on the topic:
The Arcade Fire is determined to maintain the album as an artistic format, a physical object and an emotional experience. On “The Suburbs,” as on the band’s two previous albums, the songs cross-reference and comment on one another, gathering depth and resonance as a whole.

“I’ve been moved by albums a lot more than I’ve been moved by singles, and we’re an album band,” Mr. Butler said.

1 comment:

J Bender said...

A great live show. Caught them at the Merriweather Post Pavillion a few days back. They're still not completely up on their new stuff, though the rendition of Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains) was very energetic. They fumbled with the drum machine, but made up for it with rousing renditions of their older, popular stuff. Got us dancing and "oohing" on the lawn with every beat and "oh".