June 2022 Rock/Pop Record Reviews

Cosmic American Derelicts: The Twain Shall Meet
Soundkeeper Recordings SR007 (CD or HD download). 2022. Barry Diament, prod., eng.
Performance ****
Sonics *****

It's rare to find an album recorded with an audiophile process that's musically compelling. Barry Diament has struck the balance consistently on his Soundkeeper Recordings label. Diament, a former Atlantic Records mastering engineer, has honed his minimal-miked, hi-rez-digital recording technique over the last decade or so. This is his seventh release on the Soundkeeper label. It's a mellow country-bluegrass affair performed by a skilled acoustic combo.

Recorded in The Silo, a restored antique barn in Northville Connecticut, using two Earthworks small-diaphragm condenser mikes and nothing else, Diament placed the musicians in a formation that allowed the mikes to capture the sounds from their instruments and voices and let the musicians balance themselves and control their own dynamics, as musicians do in real life. Each song is a complete take—"recording without a net," in Diament's words.

The musicians—George Kapitanelis on bass and percussion; Scott Lauro on vocals, guitar, and banjo; Danny Pavas on vocals and guitar; Ed Rainey on dobro and guitar); and Nick Reeb on fiddle—are all experienced pickers, and the music is not simple or pat. Three guitars, a fiddle and an upright bass with three-part vocal harmony can weave quite a sonic tapestry. The recording technique keeps each sound distinct, and each musician precisely located in space.

In the booklet, Diament stresses that because this is a natural, unprocessed recording, it should be played loud enough to bring the musicians to life in your room. The music is laidback, but I found it engaging at human-sized SPLs, which meant turning the volume knob further clockwise than I would with a typical, slickly produced album.

This isn't get-up-and-dance music, but it's real music, suitable for either audio demos or real life.—Tom Fine


Destroyer: Labyrinthitis
Merge Records (16/44.1 streaming, Qobuz). 2022. John Collins, prod. and eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

The changing sound of each successive Destroyer album is even more striking when you compare their newest effort, the complex and high-end Labyrinthitis, to their 1996 debut, We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge, a study in lo-fi and purposefully bad sound, including out-of-tune instruments. Destroyer's current sonic state is lively and unpredictable yet carefully crafted.

Largely the vision of songwriter and singer Dan Bejar, that sound is brought to fruition by producer and bassist John Collins. Joshua Wells pierces the synthesized atmosphere with defiantly acoustic percussion, and JP Carter uses the tone of his jazz trumpet as a kind of binding lacquer. Ted Bois's piano is less central now than on earlier records. An exception is the opening of "Tintoretto, It's for You": The interplay of Bejar's spoken vocals with the piano evokes an unsettling supper club.

Throughout the band's 13 albums, Bejar has explored poetic abstraction even he can't explain. That inscrutability opens his songs to vibrant imagery. His words are precise, yet somehow they slide through the brain undeciphered. On "Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread," Bejar's artificially resonant voice is surrounded by the endlessly descending pattern of discolike thwapping bass and a backbeat tambourine rattle.

"Labyrinthitis," the title track, is named for a condition that causes dizziness and vertigo. It has no words. Its many sounds, including a toddler's babbling, are not so much layered as sucked together by a gravitational force, giving a sense of being buried by everything in existence.

The album opener, "It's in Your Heart Now," is a calm sea of synth chords and endlessly interlocking bass thirds while Bejar sings about not understanding and not needing to understand. It's deceptive, not preparing the listener for the rest of the album, which is more sexy than sensual, more funky than fantastical.—Anne E. Johnson