Recording for stereo is a fairly new concept. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that The Beatles mixed in mono and were indifferent about embracing the new technology of stereo. Since then stereo has become ubiquitous but the reality is that a lot of ways people consume music today is still in mono. If you are listening to music through your phone speaker, on your laptop or at your local Starbucks there is little to no stereo separation.
With this in mind the band Skiprope Cello intentionally made an effort to make sure their album Driving with Zelda was mixed for mono. I will say that since a lot musicians mix their own music and don’t have apt knowledge of engineering they often start panning right away when it comes to the mix because it sounds bad in mono. That being said any halfway decent engineer will know to check to see if their mix translates well in mono. If you aren’t you have no business being in the studio.
The music on Driving with Zelda is a bit avant-garde and mixes multiple genres into an undefined blend of sounds. Up first is “Birds” which sounds a bit like Ariel Pink. I have to say for a group concerned with mono it is surprising that they didn’t have as much concern for other pertinent production elements. There is virtually no low-end and the vocals are way too low in the mix. Some parts were decent like when the female was singing but I could barely hear a word when someone was singing about something around the two-minute mark. A for effort but it came up short of what it could have been.
The next song “This Side of Minnesota” fares better. There is low end this time around and the vocals sound better. The Ariel Pink vibe is still there although it sounds more dreamlike and psychedelic as if you were listening to one of his songs on a bunch of morphine.
“Old St. Paul” in one word felt unsettling. It’s a mix between jazz and elevator music with a vocal performance that felt largely monotone and devoid of passion. I didn’t mind it but I didn’t love it. It felt like an episode of Twin Peaks. “High Point” is like a show tune but slightly more pretentious and artsy. He sings, “The pageantry and carnival of the misty streets / Makes it seem like a sensate walk of life / Like a half-dream and a string of countless lines / Is the promise of the night and streets and singing.”
They close with the most traditional sounding song entitled “Divers of the Riviera” which unfortunately showcases the subpar recording quality; it is a decent song but didn’t quite hit its potential.
Skiprope Cello feels like a work in progress. Their art house music has ears willing to listen but “Divers of the Riviera” is all over the place and does little to define what these guys are about. I would encourage them to keep at it and I can see things starting to click into a consistent sound. It may not be a bad idea for them to work with a knowable producer/engineer to focus some of their creative ideas and work behind the board so the sounds in their heads can become a reality.
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