Someone arrived at this blog the other day by searching the term “kanye west twisted fantasy compression”, which might seem random and geeky, but which made me smile proudly for a second.
(For reference, yes, Kanye’s latest album is hideously compressed on CD, and it sounds awful.)
This is because five years ago I wrote an article for www.stylusmagazine.com entitled Imperfect Sound Forever, about how a recording phenomenon called “dynamic range compression” was the scourge of modern music. This particular piece made quite an impact, becoming one of the most-read articles in Stylus’ history, inspiring a number of subsequent pieces by other people in the mainstream media (from The Times to Radio 1’s Newsbeat), being republished in the 2007 Da Capo “Best Music Writing” anthology, and directly influencing / garnering support from at least a few musicians (Elbow, 65daysofstatic, Owen Pallett, Six.By Seven, super-producer Graham Sutton). Even today I still get appreciative emails from people who’ve read it and identified with my frustration at how poor so much modern music sounds.
These days I don’t really write about music anymore; Stylus ceased publication in late 2007, and though I’d written for a handful of other publications (The Guardian, www.drownedinsound.com, eMusic), when Stylus died so did much of my interest in being a music journalist. I blog about records that inspire me to write every so often, clearly, but I’ve not had anything published properly elsewhere in nearly 3 years. To an extent, after Imperfect Sound Forever, there didn’t seem much point in continuing to churn out record reviews.
Robert Christgau, who edited the 2007 edition of the Da Capo annual and chose my piece for inclusion (and stuck it next to an article by David Byrne of Talking Heads; DAVID FUCKING BYRNE OF TALKING FUCKING HEADS, NEXT TO ME, IN A BOOK), wrote in his introduction that he thought Imperfect Sound Forever seemed unedited; and to be fair it was. Stylus’ head honcho Todd Burns was giving me free reign to write what I wanted by that point, for better or for worse. The freedom that Todd gave his writers at Stylus was one of the site’s great strengths, truth be told. Luckily enough of the staff had enough talent to make Stylus a freewheeling, expressive, experimental home of good-to-great music writing rather than an amateurish mess. (I don’t necessarily include myself in that roster of staff with “enough talent”, by the way; many Stylus alum have gone on to write for bigger, better publications since. I haven’t.)
I’ve wanted to edit, or perhaps rewrite, Imperfect Sound Forever almost since the day it was first published; at 6,000 words it’s a behemoth of an article, getting on for undergraduate dissertation proportions, and is laden down with repetition of ideas and myriad examples intended to not just prove my point but hammer it home until people’s ears hurt. Had I been a better writer, a more focused journalist, I’m sure I could have got it down to 1/2 or even 1/3 of that length.
So this post is me announcing my intention to “remaster”, if you will, Imperfect Sound Forever; to make it shorter, punchier, and more dynamic; to bring it up to date, point out some recent records that show how good things can sound if you record, mix, and master them sympathetically, and to lay the accusation of bad sonics at a handful of other records that I’ve found unbearable over the last few years. Hopefully in a little while you’ll get to read the new, improved version.