Sunday, May 20, 2007

Reviews:: Shearwater Palo Santo Expanded Edition

Not many artists have the opportunity to revisit a creation and invest the time required to fully realize their vision. That’s probably a good thing. When you over analyze anything and have access to a bigger budget, the original vision usually gets forgotten. So when I heard that Matador was giving Shearwater the chance to expand Palo Santo I was a bit skeptical. I mean, the emotion of the “demo” version of the record was fantastic. Jonathon’s original take on the songs were rough and powerful drenched in dark, moody emotions, but the arrangements were remarkably subtle and beautiful. How much could they really improve the record?

Then I started reading stories about how the band felt the record was rushed, and they felt forced to deliver a collection of songs that didn’t match their vision. They simply didn’t have the time or money to make every note sound as they wanted. While this is a fantastic reason to revisit a project, it is a bit idealistic. I mean, how many writers would love the chance to go back and rework their work (I’d love to go back and really invest the time and thoughts about the original version of this record, but it wouldn’t really change much about how I felt and certainly not make more people want to listen to the record)? How many bands would love to tweak the sound of the drums or work a better solo? Those decisions are part of the process and give the project its sincerity. Simply taking more time and throwing more money into the hat doesn’t mean it will be better and more importantly, once you start making changes, how can you step away and simply stop?

All of these thought shave been running through my head each time I’ve listened to the bulked up Matador version of Palo Santo, and you know what? Reworking this record was a fantastic idea. If you doubt me, simply play the intro to Red Sea, Black Sea and compare. The banjo and chimes now power through the mix and breathes life into the song. The underlying keys are gone, and the bass is much stronger. Every nuance they added to the re-recorded songs adds something, not only for the listener, but for the band. You can read their thoughts here, and it shows you what they were really trying to accomplish.

Originally, I said the record was a sort of music theatre experience and that’s about the only aspect of my first review I still agree with. By taking the time to bulk up the mix, it’s almost like seeing a fantastic show make the required steps to reach a Broadway audience. Simply overwhelming the crowd doesn’t work. Losing the focus and attention just makes the project a mess, and the same can be said about Shearwater’s vision.

I don’t think you can listen to the crescendo that hits at the two minute mark of Red Sea, Black Sea (the buzz of a guitar and the chorus of background voices) and not feel the energy rise to a new level. Seventy four, seventy five is now a thick arrangements that builds and sways perfectly. The pounding piano chords are now just another sound that grabs your attention, before being replaced by bowed strings, long horn notes, drum crashes or feedback. The chaotic structure of Hail Mary contrasts Jonathon’s angelic falsetto nicely.

They band made so many good decisions with this release. If they had thrown the extra 8 (9 if you prefer it on thick slabs of vinyl) songs onto an Sufjan Avalanche style outtakes EP, fans would have been disappointed. Instead, the Matador release gives the fans the re-recorded, better sounding work along with 8 new songs (four demo versions of album tracks) like a loot bag they can take home for later. They don’t fit into the flow of the record, but are well worth a listen. Probably the most compelling reason to pick this new expanded version is simple. After listening to the new songs, I can’t really picture the original visions. The changes that once were so obvious have disappeared and all I hear is the new songs. I honestly don’t know if I will ever reach for the original version of this record ever again.

MP3:: Red Sea, Black Sea
web site :: label :: more tracks

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Posted at 1:32 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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