by Dustin Williams
Vinyl - whether you grew up with it, or just recently started spinning records, once you lift the veil of the digital world, it’s like hearing your favorite music again for the first time, with a clarity and warmth…sans the 1’s and 0’s. Some groups know how to do it, and some REALLY know how to do it.
You’ll hopefully find yourself starting to branch out to new genres and styles that you haven’t before explored (like me), and find yourself starting to appreciate music not only for the chords, melodies, and lyrics, but also for the quality and depth of the recording. How it sounds. The fidelity.
As you start the search for tunes outside of your normal section in the record store, you may find yourself not as concerned with the prima facie appeal of a song, album or artist. Maybe you hear about a quality recording from a band with whom you’re not familiar. You pick it up, and you immediately respect the shit out of it for how good it sounds - the care they took into making the recording, the art of preserving a singular performance, a moment in time captured with such perfection that Stephen Hawking should likely have a whole chapter about it in his book (that movie was badassery, by the way).
You may or may not have heard of the band Dawes. You may or may not be into classic-sounding folk rock hailing from Laurel Canyon, CA (think Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, Neil Young, CSN, et al). Dawes has been referred to as some of America’s greatest up-and-coming songwriters, and they are personally one of my favorite bands. On top of that, the members of Dawes are unquestionably some of the most talented recording artists, and they go to great lengths to make sure that the recordings they put out are the highest quality possible.
To achieve this they undertake a rare method in the current age of digital recording, massive overdubs, and the dreaded auto-tune (sorry Kanye). Dawes records everything live and analog - directly to 2-inch tape - and then cuts the tracks onto 45 RPM 180g vinyl. (Note: before picking up any of these albums, you’ll want to make sure that your turntable supports 45 RPM records, otherwise you will have a totally different sonic experience.)
So instead of the drummer coming one day to play his part, the bass coming in the next day to play on top of that recording, followed by the guitars, vocals, and so forth - all being captured in a computer program at different times - the band comes in together and performs as a group at the same time. Like a concert but behind closed doors, if you will. This requires the musicians to put in painstaking hours rehearsing the music together honing their craft. And then they all gather, hit the record button and lay it down. Recording live lets the musicians perform together as they do on stage and allows them to feed off of each other, making each one’s performance that much better. And on top of that, they ditch the computer for analog gear that includes a reel-to-reel tape machine for capturing the master recording - the sound is pure. It’s three-dimensional and has a life of its own.
While it may seem a thing of the past, more and more artists are abandoning the digital revolution for good ol’ analog tape. Some artists you probably know and like who employ this method include Wilco, Jack White, Spoon, Tom Petty and many others. Check out this article on the Grammy website for some light reading on analog recording in the 21st century.
One aspect of Dawes’ music that epitomizes their sound and seems to take flight on this analog voyage is their rich, four-part harmonies that pervade throughout their songs. Listening to the two tracks below you can hear clear and distinct vocal melodies from all four band members that soar above the rock grooves and crunchy guitars (youtube links included below for reference; far inferior to the vinyl, but you get the idea). About halfway through “My Way Back Home” they bring it down and throw up some pretty tender moments with four dudes singing parallel falsetto chords - to be followed immediately by quite a declarative guitar statement. Hearing this for the first time on vinyl for me was like getting to know the band on a personal level. The vinyl adds a warmth to the vocals that I can’t fully get on a computer and takes the experience to another level.
The band doesn’t do all this because they are trying to latch on to the latest trend in the hipster music scene, and they don’t do it because they’re trying to replicate some antiquated experience from the 70s. Rather, they do it out of a respect for the craft, out of a respect for music and sound.
“If you’re writing on a typewriter,” frontman Taylor Goldsmith says, “you have to commit to whatever you’re writing. Typewriters don’t make it easy for you to go back and rethink things. Same thing with recording analog. We don’t do it because that’s what the people we admire did. We do it because it demands something out of us. It doesn’t allow us to show up lazy or not on our game. We cut every track knowing that this stuff isn’t easy to edit.”
I urge you to pick up one of their first two albums (or both) and pay close attention to how the music sounds; a fidelity so high you can almost imagine being in the room while they made the record.